16 January 2011

On Enlightenment

Well, here we are at the start of 2011, so why not really go for it! There are many things worthy of becoming active New Year’s Resolutions, but why not go for broke and focus on the source of real happiness – enlightenment.

What is this thing called enlightenment and how do we experience it?

All human beings have some things in common. For example, we all want happiness. But what sort of happiness?

It seems to me many of us have been misled and have come to believe pleasure is the source of happiness. By pleasure we usually mean that which makes us feel good and comfortable in the short term. A good meal, a good entertainment, a good…

But most sources of this type of pleasure tend to be transitory. They come and go quite quickly. Now this is not to say we cannot enjoy them just because they come and go. There is no need to feel guilty getting off on temporary delights. Just do not be confused. Short-term pleasure is not the same thing as long-term happiness.

No doubt many have worked this much out; but then we think maybe happiness will come with a bit more complexity. A good job, a nice car, the right relationship; maybe that will do it? You only need to reflect a little to realise the bad news. All these things come and go too – they just usually take a little longer than a good meal!

In seeking long-term happiness, we are seeking something constant and enduring. We will not find this outside of ourselves amidst people, things and events. True happiness, lasting happiness comes from our inner state of mind.

If that is what we are seeking, we need to turn our mind inwardly. By doing so we can begin to experience inner peace, inner contentment, inner happiness. As we do this, the true nature of our mind becomes more obvious. We come to realise an inner truth – our minds have two aspects. We all have an active thinking/ feeling mind that is intimately involved with our outer world, along with its pleasures and pains.

But then we all have a deeper aspect of mind that is more enduring, more stable and more constantly happy. When we come to experience something of these two aspects of our mind, this truth of the nature of our mind, we come to experience something of enlightenment.

Enlightenment then is the direct experience of a fundamental truth. The truth of who we really are. The truth of the nature of our mind.

Now to dispel some myths. In my youth, enlightenment loomed as some distant and mystical goal.  Something that probably could only be found in some far away exotic land, a prize to be attained after all sorts of trials and tribulations, disciplines and sacrifices.

But what if it were simpler than this? Closer than this? What if we all carried the seed of enlightenment within us? All of us? What if your potential to become enlightened was just as good as anyone else’s? What if enlightenment was less of an external struggle and more of an internal revelation? And if this were so, how could we come to experience this inner realisation?

Maybe it is as if this inner truth of who we are is like a precious diamond within us. It is there all right, but it is covered by layers of dirt – by layers of ordinary thoughts and feelings that prevent us from seeing it real nature, its real beauty.

Try to imagine you had never eaten a banana before and you became interested in the truth of what a banana tastes like. Then imagine some wonderful friend produced a banana and offered to share it with you. Some of us might gratefully take a few bites and say “Wow! So that’s it. That’s what a banana tastes like!”

But many might say “Are you really sure this is a banana? Even if this is a banana, are you sure there is not a tastier one, a bigger one, a different one, a better one?”

Our mind could so easily, so readily form concepts around the banana that we could get caught up in the thinking and miss the experience altogether. While thinking has many benefits, enlightenment is an experience, not a thinking.

How then do we experience our mind without thinking? Easy isn’t it – the answer is meditation. Meditation teaches us how to go beyond the thinking mind and to experience the nature of our mind.

But again, all too easily, as our meditation matures and we do begin to experience glimpses of this inner truth, the analytical mind can still come in causing us to loose clarity and confidence.

This is where a true teacher is so valuable. A true teacher offers the banana, confirms it is a banana, and after you have eaten it, tasted it, realised it, they confirm your experience.

And how does a teacher acquire the authority to do this? By being authentic. It is just like a Professor at University. How do we know they are authentic? They need to have been authentically taught by authentic teachers following authentic teachings (eg they need the right qualifications), and then they need to teach authentically according to the teachings they received.

So when it comes to ourselves, maybe we are lucky. Maybe we meet a teacher at a time in our lives when we are ready. All is right, auspicious as they say; we are introduced to this inner reality, and we get it in one go.

For many of us, however, even with a good teacher, I suspect it is more like eating lots of bananas. Having little tastes, little glimpses of this inner truth and building up to the point where we can say “Yep, I have tasted lots of bananas; I reckon I know bananas”.

The trick is to be patient, determined and to keep your sense of humour; to avoid guilt and shame and to be OK with your state of mind and your progress.

For most of us, our lives seem to vacillate between moments of confusion and moments of clarity. Meditation eases the confusion and strengthens the clarity. Meditation can lead to the dawning of wisdom, the experience of enlightenment.

So why wait? Maybe this is the year to really go for it. To meditate regularly. To seek a teacher. To actually follow their advice. To take your own enlightenment seriously.

Happy meditating!


The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying;  Sogyal Rinpoche
Meditation -an In-depth Guide;  Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson

Related Posts:

Meditation and satisfaction;  5/10/10
The brain, the mind and relationships;  1/11/10
Go with the flow or intervene;  16/11/10


  1. I really appreciate the clarity with which you have expressed the difference between the experience of pleasure, that may yield short term happiness, versus the experience of enduring happiness, based on understanding of our true nature: the nature of mind. As a long term meditator, I, too, have experienced the glimpses of the underlying nature of mind, on those all too rare occasions when meditation has helped me drop the conceptualising habit that confuses and prevents me seeing my own true nature. As you so rightly point out, we all have the same true nature and the opportunity for enlightenment and it is foolish to think of ourselves as behind, ahead or on a par with others in relation to progress on the path of awakening. A wiser approach is, as you urge: meditate regularly; find an authentic teacher and take your own enlightenment seriously. Give it energy! Jacqui @ http://EastWestWisdoms.com

  2. Thanks Ian. I took your advice and purchased a copy of Sogyal Rinpoche's book. Very enlightening and a delight to read, albeit in small bites.


    Diana H

  3. I like the way you simplify complex issues and make sense of things that I have wondered about but not had explained satisfactorily before. More on this would be really good.

  4. Thank you Dr. Gawler for another of your grounded, encouraging, and supportive articles. Can either you, or someone else reading these comments, offer guidance, comments, resources, on how to take the meditative state off of the cushion and into everyday life? I've begun reading and following "The Wealth Within," and find the ideas very compelling and have started the initial steps towards Mental Ataraxis. Comments, suggestions for further similar work anyone?