The concept of enlightenment

What is enlightenment?

For some Western philosophers, notably Kant, enlightenment is a greater understanding of humanity derived from observations rather than superstitions. The Age of Enlightenment is often referred to as a flowering of scientific understanding in 17th and 18th-century Europe. That said, spiritual enlightenment has its roots in Buddhism and the teachings of established religions, especially, Hinduism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. Although related concepts – because they both really mean a deeper knowledge – the Western and Eastern versions should not be conflated with one another. Spiritual enlightenment is known as bodhi by Buddhists and moksha in Hinduism. These words roughly translate as either awakening or liberation. As such, spiritually enlightened thought should be considered to be as something akin to a revelation - what Christians might call an epiphany by way of comparison.

 Is enlightenment a good thing?

This is a question that is frequently asked. Overall, enlightenment is considered to be beneficial to the person who has become enlightened and those around them, because it allows them to behave in a more informed manner. As such, enlightenment can be considered to be for the good of society as well as those who are taking a more spiritual path in their lives. Only those who think that ignorance is bliss would detract from this point of view.

How do you reach enlightenment?

There are many paths to greater enlightenment. Given that it is a spiritual phenomenon, it is not possible to simply read what its true nature is or how to achieve it from a book. That said, nearly all of the big Eastern religions offer advice on how to become more enlightened, such as acquiring Vidhya – or knowledge – in the Buddhist tradition. A more philosophical approach is taken by adherents of Adi Shankara who brought together the teachings of many Hindu gurus who had gone before him. For Jainists, reaching an enlightened state is about perfecting your soul towards the divine, something which necessarily requires non-violence to all living things.

How enlightenment changes your brain

The pursuit of enlightenment can alter neural networks. According to several scientific research programmes, the so-called neuro-plasticity of the brain forms new pathways when we take part in activities or thought processes regularly, which aims at achieving a more enlightened state. For anyone considering this spiritual path, the physiological results that come about as a result of becoming more enlightened should not be underestimated.

Does meditation lead to enlightenment?

Certainly, according to mainstream Buddhist thought, the ability to meditate and clear your mind of daily stresses helps to lead to greater enlightenment. If you think that a couple of meditation sessions will mean you automatically receive full enlightenment, then you are likely to be disappointed, however. Meditation is one of several techniques that help to make progress on a more spiritual path and is not the sole route to an enlightened state in its own right.

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