There is no such thing as “enlightenment”

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Perhaps “enlightenment” consists of the realization that there is no such thing as “enlightenment.”

What do I mean? Well I became preoccupied by this question rather unwillingly at first because my friends and associates in the ’80s and ’90s were so obsessed with it. Frankly the idea of enlightenment in the Eastern sense of the word terrified me, and I wanted nothing to do with it. At least that’s how I saw it at that time.

But as is my usual way, when something disturbs me I cannot let it go. (One of the most gratifying experiences I had recently was hearing Marshall Vian Summers, The Messenger, talk about how valuable it is to stay with those things that disturb you or trouble you.) All my life I have been criticized by certain individuals for “thinking too much.” To describe this as thinking is a complete misunderstanding. In fact, I was usually just “staying with” something that was uncomfortable. Frequently I have stayed for long periods of time with things that have been very uncomfortable. I do not necessarily mean perpetually worrying or brooding, though I did that as well, especially before my previous experience of great inner change that climaxed in the years 2008-2010.

The Question

So I asked myself the question, “What disturbs me most about this notion of ‘Enlightenment’?”

The first thing that occurred to me is the way people describe it as an “end-state.” What do I mean by “end-state”? I mean a permanent state of completion, requiring no further development, and implying no further inner experience of change. Such a state is not at all desirable in my view. Nor is it realistic.  It is not a very objective view of life.

Life may be a noun, but living is a verb. It is active. If there is action, there is movement. If there is movement, you will be going from one place to another. In fact, whilst you are preoccupied in your thoughts with enlightenment, what you are really doing is moving on a journey.  This unavoidable journey will involve decisions and this necessarily implies a purpose. Will this purpose be one you involve yourself in, with conscious deliberation? Or not? If so, you will be involved in the agony of endless decision making. Or you could follow a path. Perhaps you could follow the Ancient Way, that path described for example in Daodejing, a path that is mysteriously already set out for you.

The Path

The great beauty of this path is that you can discover it from your own inner experience. That is what happened to me. Not until I personally found the Daodejing, did I find an external confirmation of my inner experience that was truly authentic. But then I made an even more important discovery. In my own dedication to this Ancient Way, I came across a New Message that has as its foundational text an ancient and universal preparation that is exquisitely adapted to our own time and home-world, Earth, at this period of great change here in the history of our planet: Steps to Knowledge.

The second consideration that arose revolves around that problem of “pursuit.” The pursuit of anything has a whole set of other problems related to “striving,”  but also related to the encouragement of “self-obsession.”

My instinct has always informed me that there is something counter-productive about the notion of “pursuit.” The “pursuit of happiness” is the classic example. It is utterly futile and worse. This is easily grasped and understood.

“The problem with the pursuit of happiness is that so much of it is the escape from pain.”

 Marshall Vian Summers

You see, happiness “happens.” And you only pursue what you are not experiencing; whilst in pursuit you can never experience it. You have to stop the “striving.” You can either pursue or you can experience. You can’t do both.

But back to enlightenment. How can it be a permanent “end-state” where change ceases? That is not living in the world. So what could it be? Over a long period of time I shuffled through a lot of alternatives, none of which seemed to me to feel or fit right. And gradually along the way I happened upon, from my experience, a different notion.

Spiritual enrichment is no better than material enrichment.

People want permanent bliss and final closure to save them the pains of life. They particularly want to be spared the state of incompletion, or that sense of an ongoing irritation, a sense that “this is still not resolved.” This is neither possible nor desirable, living here in the world. There are only transient states. There are always unresolved problems. Think about this. Even when one attains or reaches a higher state one never stays there, permanently. One slips away from it, loses it, finds it again. That is living. This is completely natural. It is evolving and adaptive. It is the Way. Some call it the Greater Community Way of Knowledge or Greater Community Spirituality.

Other Questions

So what if it is giving up all your ideas of a final end-state of closure that is the true path to enlightenment? What if enlightenment is the total opposite (in some sense) of what people crave and aspire to? What if it is the complete acceptance that no end-state is possible? What if this state of complete acceptance—that there is no “end-state”—is in fact “enlightenment”? Or in other words, enlightenment is the acceptance that there is no such thing as enlightenment.

Just something to consider in your idle moments.


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6 thoughts on “There is no such thing as “enlightenment”

  1. Jennifer S

    Beautiful post, Justin. I found the same thing on my path — there is no end point and constantly seeking means you’re never finding. Focus on spiritual development is good, but that development should lead you to your true purpose in the world. Thank you for sharing those lovely quotes from Marshall; I love these of his as well:

    “Spiritual practice is not here to give you happiness or to assure prosperity or to transcend you out of this world. It is here to connect you with the deeper current of your life—a current that is moving, that has direction and that has somewhere to go.”

    “The goal is not happiness but preparation, readiness, contact, reunion and ultimately contribution to the world, wherever it may be appropriate for the individual. That is why the pursuit of happiness is so deceiving because the Revelation will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge you.”

    We’re here to work in the world, not to be happy, lie back, and rest. We came here to save the world. Here’s to a successful ongoing effort.

  2. Alio

    When you think about it, considering the world heroes that were considered to be “enlightened”, they were not sitting in caves. They were continually following some invisible bouncing ball onward to; “What’s to do next?”

    Imagine that invisible bouncing ball, the guide, the deeper intelligence, the knowledge, imagine that activated in a million people rather than 1 or 2 every 50 years!

  3. Jim

    Indeed a inspiring post Justin! Thank you for sharing it. I have had a similar journey as well. Searching for truth is a never ending journey. There is a beautiful Step from The Steps to Knowledge that talks about this: “Thus Thank The World Today For Supporting You, for its grandeur and for its folly, for its moments of inspiration and for its great display of illusion. The world you see so far is largely comprised of the fantasy of individuals , but there is a greater world for you to see, a world that is actually there, a world that will arouse in you Knowledge, appreciation as well. For it is your purpose to serve the evolution of this world, as it is the world’s purpose to serve your evolution.” For me here contrast is so essential in distinguishing what is true from what is meaningless. This happens all the time in our lives if we take the time to see it and feel it. Learning to feel what we know goes far deeper than knowing what we feel.

  4. Don

    If it true that the World is empty, then Enlightenment is a myth for there is no one here to claim such.
    Existence cannot be conceptualized because it is prior to thought. If Existence cannot be conceptualized it is not an object. If not object, then not subject to time.

  5. Michael Abitbol

    Cool site, haven’t read through all of it. Enlightenment, non-duality, monism, no mind or whatever symbol as a word you want to use to describe it is quite profound. Embodying the nature of your reality is certainly a great service to yourself. I would def. suggest trying it, fortune does favor the bold. But to address what you said. I’ve thought about it too even having non dual experiences myself. These guys like Tolle, Sadhguru even Osho. I mean certainly they’ve also had experience with stillness but like you said, we are human, we have a mind, that we use and wakefulness probably comes in waves for all. I think I saw a Kriya meditation that Sadhguru did on you tube where he goes “inhale, I am not the body, exhale, I am not the mind.” And yeah I get it, actually I am it but I think the very nature of creating a dichotomy is wrong, like I don’t want to demonize my humanity, it’s of course only by entering the void that Nirvana can expand. I’ve also seen seen Sadhguru and other enlightened well known masters make other mistakes in their teachings, these people are simply people. I like to say, you are the master that you seek…..but def. try enlightenment it’s cool man

    1. Mark

      Hi Michael. Thanks for your comment. One aspect of the New Message which I appreciate after years of Neo-advaita study, that mostly denigrated my mind, is that the mind is valued, but not worshipped. The right place of the mind is in service to spirit. God gave us a mind to navigate the physical world.

      While the mind can cause us great problems, it is ultimately designed to be a great servant but never a master, which it often seeks to be.

      To find traditional “enlightenment” we must go deeper than the mind, but not throw it away. This gives respect to our minds without elevating it. Everything serves our connection to God, even the mind.

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