What Is Enlightenment?
Updated: Aug 15, 2022
“Enlightenment” is a funny word. What the hell does it mean? It depends on who you ask. Everyone who reads this will experience their own associations popping up at the mention of the word—some positive, some negative.
And they will all be wrong.
Enlightenment is so tricky to talk about or define because it transcends talking and defining. This is why masters like Sadhguru or Krishnamurti discourage the seeking of enlightenment altogether! We can only seek something we have already defined—something we have already made into a boring concept.
But boring concepts are the very problem. If someone tells you the ending of a movie, they spoil the movie. Our boring, habitual concepts are doing that too—constantly spoiling the movie that is our life. You can't be delighted by life if you're clinging to how "you know it should be."
I have often associated a kind of purity with the word enlightenment. An enlightened person will always be kind, understanding, and giving—always smiling. I have often tried to be like this. When I have, it hasn’t made me so much enlightened as resentful. “Why aren’t people responding to me in a loving way? Can’t they see what a wonderful person I am?”
But enlightenment isn’t about trying to be anything, hold on to any idea, or demand any result—no matter how lovely any of them may sound.
This approach is absolutely radical. Not because it's unnatural, but because it's unconventional. Ninety-nine percent of what everybody is doing arises from trying, holding, and demanding. Most people therefore aren’t interested in enlightenment. It just sounds ridiculous. It also sounds disastrous. How could we possibly trust our lives to unfold happily if we let go to that extent?
The miracle is that it works. (This was Christ’s central message.) When I trust, things go better.
I’ve experienced this most graphically in my morning writing. Ten years ago, I decided I was tired of trying to write for others—to get a screenplay or a song sold. It wasn’t feeding my soul. I decided I wanted to see what might arise from me naturally. I love coffee and cream in the morning, so I decided to simply sit, wait, sip coffee, and look out the window. I could write anything or nothing at all. I really didn’t know what, if anything, would happen.
A lot happened: very helpful journal-writing, poems I loved, then essays, books, blogs, and even recently another screenplay. The best of my writing arose not from trying, but from an enjoyable, playful trust. (I was making a living as a private tutor in the afternoons so there was no financial pressure.)
It is truly asking a lot for that kind of trust. It requires a kind of discipline. I call it the “discipline of ease.” It requires some experimentation too. Trying it here and there, monitoring the results. I want to bring more of that trust into my life outside of my morning writing—in my interactions with others.
I think it's better to focus on "trust" rather than “enlightenment.” Trust is something we can play around with. It’s also not a permanent state, as most people probably think enlightenment is. It’s something we sometimes do and sometimes don’t.
Even so, there are some who are more consistently in that state of trust. A woman called Gangaji is a beautiful example of such a person. Here’s a 15-minute clip of her talking about how she used to play the role of "seeker of enlightenment" and of how she now trusts life to unfold, and of how sweet that way of living can be.
Gangaji on Youtube: Stop Everything. Just Be.