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Enlightenment: Why Bother?

Enlightenment seems to be the assignment, the goal, and the prize for those who become spiritually aware.

But let’s stop and ask a question about this. Such as: why is it desirable?

One possible answer is that you have heard so much about its desirability that you have accepted the premise. That would be second-hand knowledge.

Another possible answer is that you have experienced a sample of spiritual enlightenment and you want more of that desirable thing. This is the more likely answer. And that would be first-hand knowledge.

That sample of enlightenment could arrive through many possible avenues, such as meditation, a peak experience, love, the arts, or a beautiful scene in nature. There is a glowing sense of expansion, of peace, and of being in the right place. If that is what enlightenment is like, who wouldn’t want more of it?

But there are some apparent obstacles that commonly arise during the “more of it”. Often, these are expressed as questions.

Answers From Silence says that “Everyone is on their path of enlightenment,” and that “Your enlightenment is inevitable.”

The question is, “In that case, why bother trying to do anything about it?”

One possible reason for asking this is that you actually have an intellectual curiosity about the question. In that case, the answer is that by doing something about it, you accelerate progress in that direction.

Another possible reason for asking this is that you are resisting enlightenment. You sense the impending abandonment of the old way, and you are looking for a reason to hang on. “Who needs it? What good is it? What fun is it?” Those were my words at one point.

Part of resisting enlightenment comes from having ideas of what it will be like, and fearing those ideas.

But they are wrong ideas. That’s because enlightenment is not an idea. It is not imagined, thought of, grasped, or followed like a map, or in any other way separated from who you are.

Enlightenment is lived. Therefore the way it plays out in your living is as unique as your life is. Others cannot accurately say about you, “You’re enlightened. I therefore assume this means that you have experiences of a particular sort.”

Yes, a glowing sense of expansion, of peace, and of being in the right place do endure. But all that is a sideshow to the essential issue of enlightenment: a realignment of identity. Instead of being aligned to the story of your life, you align with eternal being.

That sounds desirable.


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6 Responses to “Enlightenment: Why Bother?”

  1. Diane says:

    Enlightenment as alignment of identity with eternal being.

    This is perfect.

    I had a freak enlightenment experience last week.

    As I walked from the library to my job, I looked at the Exxon sign and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And then a pile of leaves with litter in it, a dead tree, the homeless guy underneath it. Each was beautiful like a painting.

    It lasted about 10 minutes and hasn’t happened again.

    Meanwhile, I’ll just keep on aligning with eternal being.

    Thanks for your blog!


  2. Jeffrey says:

    Dear Diane:

    It sounds like you were experiencing transcendence on the level of the senses. It’s a wonderful experience. It may well happen again at another unexpected moment.

    And you are right: meanwhile, just keep on aligning with eternal being, instead of trying to re-create that experience. Alignment is the cause, the experience is the effect. You want to stick with the cause.

    Meanwhile, wouldn’t you say that the experience gave you a knowledge of yourself that you still carry with you, even outside of the experience? That knowledge never passes away, even though the experience does.

    Lastly, I’d like to point out that the beauty you perceived outwardly has its exact correspondence inwardly. That beauty has a home in you as much as it has anywhere.


  3. John says:

    Hey Jeff,

    Reading your post reminds me that the labeling of enlightenment in itself is an obstacle.

    In Chapter 22 of the Tao Te Ching, the last four lines speak beautifully to the alignment of eternal being…

    “When the ancient Masters said,
    ‘If you want to be given everything,
    give everything up.’
    they weren’t using empty phrases.
    Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.”

    As you seem to be pointing out, enlightenment is more about letting go than holding on.


  4. Jeffrey says:

    Right. Quoting Answers From Silence: “Enlightenment is a bargain. The trade-off is: give up everything that you have. In return, you get all of it back, plus everything else in the universe.”

    And I love the phrase “being lived by the Tao”. That describes the experience so well. It’s different from “living your life”. I looked for a parallel in Answers From Silence, and the closest I found is when I said that enlightenment “is Reality, living in you.” Some of the same sense is touched on by, “Anyone could complete the following phrase with their own name: ‘I am God having the experience of being ________.’ ”


  5. Why bother asking Jeffrey your questions?

    I decided to take this idea further and have persuaded “Mr. Enlightenment” to be part of a contest at my blog.

    You’re invited to enter.

    Or just keep reading here and ask questions here, because the final result will be cross-posted, both there and HERE. Where it is always here and THERE.

  6. Colleen says:

    Dear Jeffrey,
    I purchased your book in early 2010, misplaced it once, (it was closer than I thought), for 4 months and then lost it one year later,(at the public library). I hope someone else is enjoying it! I just bought it again. Why? I am not a stranger to the principles outlined in it. I like that it is a simple and living example of one human’s journey. The exercises in the end of the book are worth the price. Bless you.

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