For centuries, people are asking the evergreen question – what is enlightenment? How do I get enlightened? The answers are there but none convincing, especially to people who are looking to hear a profound definition and arduous pathway.
The word enlightenment is essentially coming from the east. Westerners have caught onto it in the past century, and the Christian community has rejected the concept altogether.
Enlightenment is discussed in Hindu and Buddhism religions. Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism, so it isn’t a surprise that you find the term used extensively in these two religions.
Man (read human) reincarnates according to the Hindu doctrines, and the life spent on earth is the result of sins committed in the previous incarnations. Enlightenment is achieved when the cycle stops, and man ceases to be born again (not the Christian phrase duh!). Buddha calls it the end of suffering.
Spirituality coming from religions is tied into doctrines and beliefs that are mostly supernatural. Today, we have achieved great heights of scientific and psychological advancements, and we know for sure that supernatural sounds good in mythologies alone. We need something we can use. Enlightenment is something we can still play with, but what is it? We know it like the back of the hand that it isn’t reincarnation mumbo jumbo. So, what is it?
Let’s think for a moment. The word enlightenment strikes a chord with knowledge, knowledge of things that is special in a way. What is that knowledge that we seek after?
Eckhart Tolle hits the mark partly in his book The Power of Now where he equates enlightenment with presence of mind on the things happening around us. He preaches that you and I stay present by putting the thoughts out of our mind and experience the present moment – NOW.
To illustrate, just recall this morning shower. Do you remember the entire sequence of events, the things that stood around you and did you actually feel the water splashing on your face? I doubt it. We humans are generally engulfed with thoughts of the past that these puts us out of the present world. We do things mechanically, especially things such as showering which we are so accustomed with. I confess that I have driven to work many days without realizing what I was doing. When I got to work, I wonder why I don’t remember driving, and the structures and vehicles that went past me.
Tolle challenges to identify the thoughts that run through us. Discovering these thoughts is the first step. In fact, I smiled the first few times when I was able to identify it. Once these thoughts are identified, put them out of my mind and concentrate on the things on hand. Once I started to do it, I observed my surroundings, the minute little details that make up my life – just as a toddler gapes at new items that they come in contact with.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant who lived in the 18th century defines enlightenment as – man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. He feels that immaturity is self-inflicted due to lack of courage and not due to the lack of understanding. People do not want to stand against establishments to reason out, go against the tide, but rather buttress what stands strong. He argues that we have stopped becoming thinking creatures but rather have become sheep-like. In German, he calls the motto of enlightenment as Sapere aude! This translates to daring to be wise.
Tolle and Kant seem to be contradicting each other? Tolle says don’t think while Kant insists or rather mocks at not thinking.
Tolle is actually complimenting Kant and not contradicting him. Tolle is speaking about the past thoughts which are worthless that are getting murkier by the moment and something that clouds our judgment. If we get these thoughts out of our minds, we will stay present and have the intellect to judge the right from the wrong, and gives us the weaponry to go against the crowd if necessary. So, Kant theory of enlightenment cannot be accomplished if you don’t have Tolle in vogue.