Enlightenment made Simple

Enlightenment made Simple

By Desmond Yeoh SC

Ceramic Products Manufacturer in Malaysia

Ceramic Products

The word enlightenment has always been associated with supernatural experiences and power. As such, it is understandable why very few people can clearly see the path towards it. Instead of trying to define enlightenment, perhaps it is better to illustrate the meaning with a simple example.

Rita is a waitress serving a customer in a foul mood. For no particular reason, the customer found fault with the way Rita served him and abused her verbally before storming off. Rita’s emotions moved from shock to anger. She was boiling within the entire day replaying the incident over and over again. She even created different scenarios of how she could have fought back and give the customer what he deserved. A few months on, she continued to replay the event by telling her friends of the incident and how she would let the person have it if he visited the restaurant again. The actual incident lasted for less than a minute but in Rita’s mind, it lasted for months. In the extreme case, she might hold on to that incident in her mind for years, thus allowing it to slowly change her adversely.

This is a normal reaction of an unenlightened being.

Now, let us assume that Rita is an enlightened being. While the customer was shouting at her and also after he stormed off, she would have watched her emotional and mental reactions within. She would observe how her shock and anger arose and fell away. Instead of saying, “I am angry” or “the person made me angry”, she merely acknowledged that there was anger and when the anger faded away, she observed and acknowledged that as well. She was also aware when the anger was gone. She did not judge her anger and accepted it with equanimity. She did not scold herself for not fighting bad. Everything arose and faded away on its own. Her bad experience ended there. No more suffering. We may even argue that no anger would have arisen at the first place but that would defeat the purpose of my example.

In the above example, there is the experience (the event) and the ‘experiencer’. The experiencer is the ‘I-consciousness’. In the case of the enlightened Rita, the experiencer faded away together with the experience of the event and all the emotions that arose with it; as what J. Krishnamurti said, “the observer is the observed”.

In the case of the unenlightened Rita, the experiencer is sustained by reliving the memory of the event. Instead of experiencing the actual event, the experiencer is now experiencing a memory and the new emotions that come with it. Now, she may even be angrier. The first experiencer and the second experiencer are different but appear to be the same to Rita. She continues to cling on to the experiencer and refuse to let it go.

The ego is the sum total of all these ‘experiencer’ that we cling to.

The Buddha said that if a person has been hit by an arrow he would feel pain. If he is hit by another arrow on the same spot, it would be even worse than the first arrow. And if there is a third arrow, the pain would be greatly multiplied. The first arrow is the negative external circumstances that give rise to the negative mental and emotional reactions. The second and third arrow is ignorance. Ignorance causes us to resist those negative mental and emotional reactions instead of embracing them.

The main factor that prolongs our suffering is our desire. There are three categories of desire: (1) The desire to have/prolong something, (2) the desire to get rid of something and (3) the desire to ‘become’; to become famous, rich, powerful or enlightened!

The first and second desires are very common and we are thrown about by hundreds of this type of desires everyday. The third desire seems more long term and is the underlying driver of what we do. Desires are not by themselves bad but if they bring suffering, then they become problematic; for instance, my desire for inner-peace is a good thing but if it causes me to become angry every time I am distracted during meditation, then that desire becomes a problem.

There are two ways of dealing with our desires. One way is to use our discipline to suppress our desires. This is necessary when fulfilling those desires can harm ourselves or others. The second and more effective way is to observe how those desires bring us suffering and let go of them naturally and effortlessly. My desire for an object I do not have may make me jealous of those who have it and angry at the obstacles that prevent me from having that object. My desire to get rid of something may occupy my mind endlessly about ways to achieve my aim. When we can look deeply at our desires and see the suffering that they bring, there is a feeling of relief when we naturally let go of those desires and see the suffering they entail, fall away by themselves.

Living an enlightened life appears simple based on the above example but when we are face with day to day challenges, we can see the difficulty of transcending our usual habitual reactions. Living an enlightened life requires wisdom and a strong awareness. We need to keep this in mind when we perform our spiritual practices so that we know where we want to head to. I have friends who told me that they want to be able to see their past life or perform astral travel and so on. I have friends who have developed some of these supernatural abilities but yet, they are not contented with their life. These are nice tricks but they will not contribute to our ability to live an enlightened life. We need to be clear about what is critical for us to live a happy and peaceful life so that we do not waste time going around in circles.

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