Lotus Blooms In the Blog

July 4, 2006

What does it mean to be “Enlightened”?

Filed under: Impermanence — by myronhartley @ 7:39 pm

One of our fellow students in suggesting a discussion topic asked, “What’s the definition of impermanent? Is enlightenment a changing or non-changing thing?”

Sky Laughing Buddha

Buddhists have the goal of enlightenment; do other religions share this same goal?
Can non-Buddhists attain enlightenment?
And, if they can what do they call it and how do they describe this state or accomplishment?

Since all language is based upon words and the perceived meaning of these words—labels and objects it may be helpful to start with a working definitions of these terms. Various online resources have provided for English the following definitions. This may provide a good starting place for discussion and the use of languages. Clearly it is customary for various groups to sharpen the meaning of the terms and words based upon their philosophy. This may result in a more accurate understanding or in some cases may result in a redefinition of the word in a way that is completely different from its common usage and understanding.

left sky buddha right sky buddha

Impermanent is defined as: Existing or enduring for a limited time only

Synonyms for impermanent include:

Permanent is defined as: Continuing or enduring without marked change in status, condition or place

Synonyms for permanent include:

Enlightenment is defined in the dictionary with both a religious or spiritual definition and with a lay philosophical definition or philosophical movement. Spiritually or religiously enlightenment is defined online as:
1. (Hinduism and Buddhism) the beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation; characterized by the extinction of desire and suffering and individual consciousness
2. Buddhism: a final blessed state marked by the absence of desire or suffering

and as a lay philosophical movement as:
3. Education that results in understanding and the spread of knowledge
4. A movement in the 18th century that advocated the use of reason in the reappraisal of accepted ideas and social institutions
The 18th-century Enlightenment — What has come to be known as the Enlightenment is characterized by an optimistic faith in the ability of man to develop progressively by using reason. By coming to know both himself and the natural world better he is able to develop morally and materially, increasingly dominating both his own animal instincts and the natural world that forms his environment. [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-15061?query=enlightenment&ct=]
Buddhism is commonly divided into three categories of teachings or –yanas.

Although the terms impermanent and permanent are basically defined very similarly, the view of permanence and impermanent differs significantly in the Foundational Path of Individual Liberation, the Hinayana Path, and in the Path of the Perfection of Wisdom, the Mahayana and Vajrayana Path.

Enlightenment is the final goal of Buddhism or from a Buddhist perspective the final goal of all humanity and also the final goal of all sentient beings, living beings with mind. Once again, within the various Schools, Paths and Practices, within the various –yanas, the view of Enlightenment differs significantly in the Foundational Path of Individual Liberation, the Hinayana Path, and in the Path of the Perfection of Wisdom, the Mahayana and Vajrayana Path.

The discussion of these terms and topics would require an entire book or a series of volumes; as a minimum this topic could be a University graduate level doctorial thesis.

What are your ideas, comments or perspectives? Do you have any books to suggest or links to post?



  1. Yes, I deliberately asked this rhetorical question, as it’s not that black and white… An enlightened mind is still active, changing, while the state is not reversible. So one has to be careful with definitions. This also differs between traditions.

    Comment by Kent Sandvik — July 4, 2006 @ 7:54 pm |Reply

  2. These definitions are offered from the dualistic perspective and from the perspective of no analysis.

    When looked at from the perspective of slight analysis, we find that the term doesn’t truly exist, not even the word even exists in the relative world.

    When we say impermanence this is made up of 4 syllables. When we say the first the second, third and fourth doesn’t exist; when we say the second, the first, third and fourth doesn’t exist; when we say the third the first, second and fourth doesn’t exist; and when we say the fourth the prior three doesn’t exist; they are completely gone.

    This analysis can be further extended to the level of even the sounds of each syllable. So even the name or label doesn’t exist, not even relatively or in the worldly truth.

    This analysis of not finding even any truly worldly conventional word, term or label can be also extended to investigate every language and every the various words and terms.

    We could also analyze the sounds, words and terms in each language from this sequential analysis and our finding would be the same—the lack of existence of even the word itself as an independent entity.

    Many languages may use similar sounds, words or terms, for the same perceived object such as the sounds used for “mother” that are similar in many extremely different languages. However, if we analyze the various dialects and expressions, even words within the same language sound differently when spoken by different people or if said differently in different contexts. In different contexts the words may carry completely opposite meanings. For example, if you are talking to your mother or talking about your mother or calling someone in anger or in jest a “mother”.

    Actually there is no consistent sound or word that is linked to any perceived object that is labeled by the sound, in this way words, lables and definitions are mere conventions not truly existing even in the relative truth.

    This is from the perspective of the Great Middle Way Autonomy School.

    From this same perspective we can also find that ideas of permanence are based upon ideas of impermanence; and, that ideas of impermanence are based upon ideas of permanence, so neither has any independent existence, they are dependently arisen mere concepts, definitions that are linked interdependently, not independently existing. As such they are lacking independent existence, or true existence independently, on its own, from its own side, even conventionally.

    On the other hand, it is quite OK and necessary when talking to other people to use commonly accepted terms and labels for communication and interaction or so says Chandrakirti.

    Comment by myronhartley — July 4, 2006 @ 9:29 pm |Reply

  3. Does the enlightened mind exist or not? Does any mind exist or not?

    From the perspective of no analysis mind exists.

    From the perspective of slight analysis mind doesn’t exist since it cannot be found either inside or outside the body, on the surface or in between. Mind cannot be found in the past, nor in future and the present moment can’t be found separate from its past part and its future part, neither the past part or the future part of the present moment actually exists. Where would mind be found?

    From the perspective of thorough analysis, one cannot say that mind exists or doesn’t exist, mind itself is beyond the conceptual fabrications of existence and non-existence. Mind itself is beyond all conceptual fabrications.

    From the perspective of the second turning mind is empty beyond fabrications. The fabrications themselves are also empty. Empty Mind itself is free of stains, perfectly pure.

    From the perspective of the third turning mind is not a blank emptiness like dark empty space, not a mere emptiness, mind is luminous and aware the union of luminosity emptiness undifferentiable, or the union of awareness emptiness undifferentiable beyond fabrication.

    Comment by myronhartley — July 4, 2006 @ 10:10 pm |Reply

  4. I got 1 question i really need to know:
    “For Buddhists, enlightenment is more important that belief” can someone give me some back ground infomation about this topic ASAP

    Comment by Student — February 27, 2007 @ 7:11 am |Reply

  5. Did you mean enlightenment is more important “than belief” or “that belief”?

    Actually perhaps if you restate you question in a different way you might get a slightly better answer.

    Belief in Buddhism is not a “blind faith” but an intellectual certainity based upon logic and anlysis — listening, thinking and contemplating and meditation, intellegence is gained by thinking–experience is gained from meditation–>experience give rise to realization.

    With blind faith you could believe in anything but with intellectual certainity hopefully one will find some degree of truth.

    Even in football a goal or a touchdown is more important than believing you will win. Better to actually win then just believe you will win. But belief is still helpful and important even in football.

    Comment by myronhartley — March 22, 2007 @ 5:26 am |Reply

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