Monks are not really supposed to talk about Enlightenment. This is a custom – perhaps because monks have a serious rule about not claiming attainments they do not have. But talking about it is not to claim it for oneself.
Accordingly most monks, and also modern lay teachers, tend to avoid the topic of Enlightenment, and concentrate instead on practical matters of dealing with negative emotions, or trying to be mindful.
Enlightenment is then left as something that will happen way down the road, too far off for us mortals to worry about.
Perhaps this is why Mahayana Buddhism introduced the ideas of Buddha Nature.
This Buddha nature is immanent, it is experiencable, and what’s more, it has always been there. You do not have to go through lifetimes of purification … it is your own nature.
In fact, this idea is in the Pali canon; it is in no way a new or different teaching. Mahayana like to claim superiority for their ‘Buddha Nature’ teaching saying that Theravada Buddhism (original Buddhism) is too weak and takes thousands of lifetimes (or at least 7 lifetimes).
This is nonsense of course – Enlightenment in the original Pali suttas, which are universally recognised as the closest to the Buddha’s actual words, was instant. It was immanent.
Still, by having, considering, working with the concept it brings the idea of Enlightenment a lot closer.
Enlightenment is the ‘unconditioned’ ‘unborn and unageing’ ‘supreme security from bondage’ ‘liberation of the heart’ ‘the goal’ ‘the blissful’ ‘the ultimate’ … and many other such descriptions. By definition it is beyond any kind of suffering. By other Indian philosophy it is non-duality – a concept present by definition if not by name in the Pali suttas.
How much talk about what enlightenment is/is not should be undertaken? Does consideration of the topic aid or hinder the practise? Would people get deluded into thinking they have become enlightened? How does having a goal sit with giving up desire – desire implies having a goal right?
Tonight we asked Jeff Oliver to talk on this interesting topic.