In my life I have pondered exactly what “enlightenment” actually is. Many have strong opinions about it, usually involving a caricature of the peaceful holy being sitting in lofty detachment from the cares of the world. Well, as the old song goes, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
I've found that "enlightenment” is pretty much in the eye of the beholder. I have been searching for Truth for a very long time, and along the way I’ve learned some things about the Buddha and some things he allegedly said. Most would grant the Buddha as being “enlightened.” One thing that stuck with me was (to paraphrase) “They criticize he who speaks little. They criticize he who speaks a lot. They criticize he who doesn’t speak at all. There is no one on Earth who is not criticized.”
I also found out that in his wandering, he spent some time fasting to the point of self-annihilation. Finding that starvation is NOT the way to enlightenment, he began to eat again. Of course the “spiritual teachers” and his disciples with an inflated sense of what a “truly enlightened being would do” criticized him and turned away from him because he no longer fit their perceptual frame and would no longer play to their confirmation bias.
I have also been criticized from time to time because I am passionate about some things like integrity, honor, dignity, and respect. It is an interesting illusion that so many believe Holy Beings don’t get angry, despite lots of historical evidence that forms of enlightenment do not preclude getting outraged at worldly obscenities. It is as though one must stop having strong opinions, and have no attitude whatsoever about anything, in order to be perceived by the superficial as "enlightened."
We all have the capacity for anger. That’s Mars. Of course, there is a healthy and unhealthy way for Mars to manifest. A while back I learned from studying the works of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that there are two kinds of anger: healthy anger and toxic anger.
The first comes forth in the presence of something that outrages the sensibility and must be addressed. This anger comes and leaves because it is specific to the situation and doesn't dominate our life, mind, or feelings. The second type of anger, toxic anger, is hardened and has no purpose other than to just be angry. It makes a nest in our hair and ferments over time.
Obviously, getting angry over little things is no way to live a life on a day to day basis, but we also cannot stifle a natural part of ourselves and expect to live a healthy life. This teaches us the virtues of caution, consideration, self-reflection, and discernment about what we let arouse us and what we learn to let go of in the moment.
As I mentioned earlier, it sure seems that there is a prevailing illusion that the perceptual caricature of a “spiritual being” is in fact the way that Being is actually experiencing life in a body. For “enlightened” beings, everything’s peace, light, and love all the time, right? Devotees of the illusion believe that no truly spiritual being has ever lost their temper even for a moment.
And yet, it seems that those caught in the illusion of what “enlightenment” is supposed to look like have forgotten one of the greatest of all time, who we are told got so outraged at the degradation of His temple that He started flipping tables over. I doubt he had a smile on his face while doing that!
So if one of the most enlightened of all time questioned his teachers on their dogma, drank wine, hung with laborers, got mad, and even got married (yes, even the bible tells us so!) then I suppose these things won’t prevent us from being “enlightened.”
Which brings us to the question: What if God was one of us? Would we recognize Christ or Buddha if he were in front of us, or commenting on a web site?
“Enlightenment” means many things to many people. Students in the School of Enlightened Art do not learn the same things as students in the School of Enlightened Science or the School of Enlightened Philosophy. That’s why unless we are familiar with the tools, aims, and methods of each school, we really don’t know everything there is to know about “enlightenment.”
Ultimately, in our quest for Truth, we pretty much have to take the view that other people’s opinions about “enlightenment” must be taken with a grain of salt, since no one ever walked even a mile in anyone else’s shoes. While we all climb one of the three great “Mountains of Truth,” each of us gets our own unique experience along the way. While there are common lessons for all of us, each gets to find their unique realizations, and their own unique ways of applying those realizations to find the Truth of their Being, and the truths they are here to share with their world.
So the next time someone criticizes you for what you believe, write, or say, just remember to consider the source, since an elementary school bully will certainly say horrible things to others, regardless of how much more you may know than they do. While you don't want to get enmeshed in a battle with someone who will waste your time, sometimes you just have to speak your peace from a compassionate but detached view of the drama.
Still, if you are confronted by a bully, or someone who wants to drag you down to their level, have courage, stand your ground, know your Truth, uphold your integrity, and love your Way. Walk away from untruth and find Truth. Sooner or later, through difficulty and triumph, you will know your unique form of “enlightenment.” And that is good enough for all of us.
By Robert Wilkinson