Monday, April 4, 9966


The term “enlightenment” gets thrown around a lot.  It might seem rather vague and esoteric.  We might picture a monk wearing a robe and meditating in a cave or on a mountaintop and imagine that he has reached a state of nirvana (whatever that is) or received some cosmic information that the rest of us will never know.

Enlightenment simply means to see things as they are.  That’s it.  Nothing magical or other-worldly.  Just the clarity of awareness to perceive reality.

We might think, “But I already perceive reality.”  Yes, we perceive reality.  However, our minds don’t.  “But aren’t we our minds?” we might ask.  No.  That is the universal mistake.  We are not our minds!

So, what are we?  Conscious beings.  Everything else about us – our bodies, our brains, our possessions – is stuff we have, not stuff we are.  Our minds are tools.  They think and feel.  They are aspects of us, but they are not us.  This is why we remain who we are even though thoughts and feelings change all the time.  If we were our minds, then we would keep changing.

One of the things that our minds do is collect information.  For example, we (not our minds) perceive a tree.  Then the mind learns about the tree: its colors, its species, its preferred latitudes, and so on.  The mind does not perceive the tree – it only knows information about the tree.  You see the difference?

The mind uses the information it gathers to develop beliefs.  Then it filters reality through those beliefs.  For example, a politician does something questionable.  If he represents our political party, we might view it as okay and excuse or even support it; but if he’s from an opposing party, we might view it as bad and criticize it.  As long as we look at things through the filter of our preconceived notions, we will not see them as they are.  We might believe that we see things as they are, but that is only because we don’t even know the filter is there.

Our filter system pervades almost every aspect of our lives: who we associate with, how much money we hoard or spend, our body image, who we vote for, our opinion on whether abortion/prostitution/marijuana should be legal, what we worry about, etc.  We might believe that we are “right”, that we see things as they are, and that all the people who disagree with us are just too blind or stupid to see how right we are.  Meanwhile they think the same thing about us.

So, given that we don’t perceive things as they really are, we have two options: keep living with our illusions, or wake up.  Illusions are comfortable, which is why so many people prefer to keep them.  They might believe that they are smarter or nicer than others, that their particular country or ethnic group is better than all the others, that their children are smarter or cuter than all others, or whatever, and they are comfortable with that.  But illusions can also get us into trouble.  For example, the belief that we need lots of money or social status in order to be happy can make us miserable when we lose them.

As long as we are comfortable, we will continue to live with our illusions, because why jeopardize a good thing?  Only after our filter causes us a certain amount of suffering will we have incentive to remove that filter.  We will, or will attempt to, put aside our old, erroneous, destructive notions that have kept us miserable, wanting, worried, angry, and frustrated.  This process of removing our filter, of waking up from our dream of illusions, and seeing things directly, is enlightenment.  It can be a gradual process wherein we experience it with increasing frequency, or it can occur all at once (usually due to some sort of disaster).

We might get occasional glimpses of enlightenment even before we become aware of our filter.  Sometimes our minds stop spinning when we are involved in an engrossing activity or just waking up from a nap.  These are times of relaxation and clarity.  But later our minds start spinning again and we are back to illusion and agitation.

Even when we learn that our filter has been ruining our life, it can still be difficult to put it aside.  This is because the mind can’t stand to not be in control, to not think, because this is what it is made to do.  It is a necessary tool that enables us to invent things and keep appointments and remember not to touch a hot stove.  But some of the beliefs it develops are wrong and damaging, and we need to dispel them if we are to experience lasting peace.