What is this thing called "enlightenment" and why would one want it?
Unfortunately, there's not much hard info on the benefits of enlightenment, nor on what it is exactly or how it manifests or how to achieve it. It's one of those slippery words/concepts, like "God", that can mean many things to many people. Conveniently though, we can identify a small number of broad themes to help make sense of all the detail. Enlightenment is believed to involve:
- escaping the endless cycle of reincarnation -- the recurring samsara of birth, death, rebirth -- in which every soul is believed to be trapped
- quantum entanglement in the biological sense, ie being "at one" with all living things
- getting closer to God (I don't know what "closer" or what "God" means; but some people do, apparently)
- absence of personal identity, or the state in which one finds oneself after losing oneself
- living outside of time / "living in the now", a technique believed to lighten the (alleged) psychological burden of regrets about the past and anxieties about the future
- accessing lost or secret knowledge about how things really work, and our individual roles in the process
- seeing through the illusion, the maya, of a time-bound, material world in which everything is relative to every other thing, and nothing stands still long enough to be real.
To be fair though, extinguishment of personal identity is included as an outcome of becoming enlightened only in some models of enlightenment, not all.
An idea that is one of enlightenment's fellow travellers is that this world, this life is horrible and nasty and full of pain and suffering. (Or, per Hobbes: nasty, brutish and short.) Yet in this unenlightened world, people experience great joy, love, clarity and fulfilment. Is that joy an illusion? Is their fulfilment unreal? Is Love mere chemistry? And if it is, so what? It's enjoyable to feel happy. In fact, it makes one happy to feel happy, illusion or not.
Enlightenment offers (or seems to offer) the opportunity to escape, not only the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, but also the responsibility for the outcomes of prior actions. Nor does throwing "karma" into the mix change anything. Because even if there is such a thing as "karma" and even if it works in the way that it is commonly said to work, there will always be people who believe -- correctly or incorrectly -- that they can escape the consequences of their actions. An illusion can produce non-illusory effects in reality!
And on the subject of illusions, you've probably heard or read somewhere that "time is just an illusion" or that "time does not exist". Dubious. Fishy. Time may be not what we think it is; it may be an illusion. But it's a real illusion. The illusion exists. Otherwise, how could we talk about it?
And it's a very specific illusion, related to the experience that people say they have of "the passage of time", the sequence and flow of events in reality. We're told that time is an illusion, that there is no sequence and flow of events, but rather that everything happens at once. We're told that time is not what we think it is, not what we feel it is; it's something else, eg an illusion. But there's something there, isn't there? If time is an illusion, it's incorrect to say that time doesn't exist.
According to Einstein, there is no absolute time, no Governing Clock of the Universe. There is no right time, ever. Whatever time is, it's relative. But it does exist. As do all of those things that are said not to exist because of their being mere illusions, epiphenomena: Life, Consciousness and Causality, to name but a few. We don't understand what they are or how they work. But our inadequacy makes them no less real.
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