Ever since we began publishing What Is Enlightenment?
seven years ago, we've been receiving letters from people all around the world who take our name as an open invitation to share with us their ideas about what enlightenment is. Whether it's a personal revelation, an email of the entire text of Immanuel Kant's treatise of the same name, or excerpts of the writings of spiritual teachers of every conceivable persuasion—past, present and even disembodied—what most of our correspondents share is a conviction that theirs is the definitive answer that will spare us the trouble of producing any further issues.
This has been the hardest editorial for us to write because this has been the biggest club-sandwich-of-an-issue we've ever had the guts to sink our teeth into. How dare we!
And after the first bite, our mouth was so full (of confusing contradictions) that we paused mid-mouthful to wonder, "Should we really
do this?" And so, after considerable late-night discussions, we decided to take the plunge and swallowed the first overwhelming bite: What is enlightenment? Does anybody know what they're talking about?
What kind of question is this? Do we
know what we're
talking about? Do we dare
to know what we're talking about? Does anybody
dare to know what they're talking about? Well, while more and more people these days seem to at least think
that they know what they're talking about, and what with the current anti-hierarchical, anti-authority, anti-absolute, anti-enlightenment—
oops! shouldn't have said that—spiritual climate we're living in, we became seriously curious about what the BIG GUNS have to say about the BIG WORD. We took another bite, and almost choked—this time for real—when it became apparent that almost everybody disagrees!
Disagrees about what? About everything!
The Buddhists disagree with the Buddhists, the Buddhists disagree with the Hindus, the Hindus agree in some shape or form with everyone
. Wait a minute, what is
enlightenment anyway?! Well, after a few strong whacks on the back to stop the choking, we soon started choking again when we realized that the founder of this magazine, Andrew Cohen, thinks he
knows what he's
talking about and that a lot
of people disagree with him.
So what are we
(we're his students)
doing? How does he
(he's our teacher) know what he's talking about? Well, the choking started up once again because he
just walked in and reminded us that if we can't find out from our own experience what enlightenment is, how can we
possibly know if he
knows what he's talking about or if anybody knows what ANYBODY is talking about! But how can we know? How could we ever trust our experience to such a degree that we could finally say, "Now we know"? Is it because "someone else who we trust told us so"? Or because "we had a spiritual experience that so transformed our experience of consciousness that we can now say authoritatively that 'we know'"? But how is it that we know that we know? And how is it that you, the reader, will know that we
know what we're talking about? Or, why is it that you're
so sure that we don't
know what we're talking about? Wait a minute! What's going on here? What happened to the sandwich anyway?—forgot all about it in our reverie. But, seriously, this is
a good question, after all: What is enlightenment? Does anybody know what they're talking about?
Is anybody still out there?
"Who cares?! Why is it so important to you anyway?"
"Well, I want to know the meaning of life."
"There is no meaning!"
"How do you know?"
"I don't! But I don't care and you do."
"That's right, but why is it that I care and you don't?"
"Because you're lost in your head. Enlightenment has nothing to do with thinking."
"But I thought you said you didn't know or care what it meant?"
"I don't, but I know it has nothing to do with thinking."
"But how do you know?"
"Lighten up! Take a deep breath. Relaaaaaaax, man. Don't take life so seriously. Get it? Enlighten-up!"
"But wait a minute. These are serious and important questions."
"To whom? Who is it that wants to know? Who is it that needs to be so sure what enlightenment is, anyway? Maybe that's the part of you that could never know."
"Hey, who are you?"
"I'm someone who has given up trying to figure it all out."
"Well, I haven't, and I want to know where you get your confidence from."
"I don't get my confidence from anywhere; it's just that I really don't care anymore."
"But does the fact that you don't care anymore make you superior to me? Does the fact that I care make me superior to you?"
"Like I said, relax, man."
"I can't relax. I feel I really need to know . . ."
We, of course, are very interested in these rather perplexing, confusing, mind-bending, thought-provoking, oh-so-annoying questions, questions, questions. What with the modern neo-Advaita movement becoming the EST of the '90s and just about everybody talking about "getting it," and with the Buddhists telling us that we'll never get it in this lifetime—
what are we to conclude? The Buddha "got it" in his
lifetime. Ramana Maharshi "got it" in a couple of minutes. ("But how many Buddhas and Ramana Maharshis are there?") But wait a minute—according to at least one of the Shankaracharyas, one of the highest authorities in Hinduism and a BIG GUN for sure, Ramana couldn't be enlightened because he wasn't a true Vedantin. Why? Because he didn't study the scriptures! Now we really don't know what we're talking about! The Buddha said that form is emptiness and emptiness is form, and yet the Buddhists seem to have a serious disagreement as to what emptiness actually is.
How can anybody possibly make sense out of all of this? Maybe we should ask the Einstein of consciousness, the high priest himself, Ken Wilber. But wait a minute—he just said that he knew
that he wasn't going to make it in this lifetime. But how does he
know? Oh boy! Where do we go from here?
Well, if you're crazy enough to have read this far, then we encourage you to turn the page and find out!