What Is Enlightenment?

It’s definition, stages, and how to to realize it in this lifetime

The authors of this site are not qualified to teach Buddha-dharma but in an effort to point living beings in the correct direction, we have quoted part of the Buddha’s (translated) words to illustrate some basic fundamentals. We are cautious even quoting the sutras because we  fear that we might lead others in misleading the Buddha’s true meaning. We quote the sutras with the hope to inspire followers of the Buddha to read the suttas and sutras in their entirety.

We hope to end any unnecessary confusion about the clear definition of enlightenment and goal of Buddhism: ending the cycle of birth and death. Any goal other than ending the cycle of birth and death is not Buddhism. Good fortune, wisdom, and even supernatural powers maybe byproducts of practicing but they must not be the main goal. The following are the words of Shakyamuni Buddha:

 

My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’Shakyamuni Buddha

 

For those who have made some spiritual progress but are still not enlightened

From the Laṅkāvatāra Sutra: Chapter 10 Discipleship-Lineage of the Arhats

 

The first class of disciples mean well but they find it difficult to understand unfamiliar ideas. Their minds are joyful when studying about and practicing the things belonging to appearances that can be discriminated, but they become confused by the notion of an uninterrupted chain of causation, and they become fearful when they consider the aggregates that make up personality and its object world as being maya-like, empty and egoless. They were able to advance to the fifth or sixth stage where they are able to do away with the rising of passions, but not with the notions that give rise to passion and, therefore, they are unable to get rid of the clinging to an ego-soul and its accompanying attachments, habits and habit-energy. In this same class the disciples are the earnest disciples of other faiths, who clinging to the notions of such things as, the soul as an external entity, Supreme Atman, Personal God, seek a that is in harmony with them. There are others, more materialistic in their ideas, who think that all things exist in dependence upon causation and, therefore, that Nirvana must be in like dependence. But none of these, earnest though they be, have gained an insight into the truth of the twofold egolessness and are, therefore, of limited spiritual insights as regards deliverance and non-deliverance; for them there is no emancipation. They have great self-confidence but they can never gain a true knowledge of Nirvana until they have learned to disciple themselves in the patient acceptance of the twofold egolessness.Shakyamuni Buddha

 

The Enlightenment of an Arhat

From the Laṅkāvatāra Sutra: Chapter 10 Discipleship-Lineage of the Arhats

 

By attaining an inner perception of the true nature of Universal Mind they are steadily purifying their habit-energy. The Arhat has attained emancipation, enlightenment, the Dhyanas, the Samadhis, and his whole attention is given to the attainment of Nirvana, but the idea of Nirvana causes mental perturbations because he has a wrong idea of Nirvana. The notion of Nirvana in his mind is divided: he discriminates Nirvana from self, and self from others. He has attained some of the fruits of self-realisation… he has not attained perfect emancipation. Emancipation comes with the acceptance of imagelessness.Shakyamuni Buddha

 

The Enlightenment of a Bodhisattva

From the Laṅkāvatāra Sutra: Chapter 11 Bodhisattvahood and Its Stages

 

The Bodhisattvas are those earnest disciples who are enlightened by reason of their efforts to attain self-realisation of Noble Wisdom and who have taken upon themselves the task to enlighten others. They have gained a clear understanding of the truth that all things are empty, un-born, and of a maya-like nature; they have ceased from viewing things discriminatively and from considering them in their relations; they thoroughly understand the truth of twofold egolessness and have adjusted themselves to it with patient acceptance; they have attained a definite realisation of imagelessness; and they are abiding in the perfect-knowledge that they have gained by self-realisation of Noble Wisdom.Shakyamuni Buddha