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What is Enlightenment? Nirvana? Nibbana?

Enlightenment (Nirvana or Nibbana in Theravada Buddhism) is defined differently by almost whomever you ask. In the past, I attempted to define it, but basically relied on others before me to do the hard work.

In the past, I thought there was just 1 kind of enlightenment.

Today, I think there must be many kinds or levels of enlightenment, all of them involving a profound change in the person’s belief system, goals, desires, wants, needs, feelings, emotions, and ultimately – ego.

I think some part of these changes are permanent.

I can pinpoint the day that my search for what enlightenment was all about, ended. It wasn’t that I became enlightened on that day, but the whole question of whether enlightenment was anything worth pursuing just stopped. It didn’t matter after August 30, 2007.

The incident that preceded it was a nice peaceful meditation session that resulted in what I call a flatline mind and what others like Shinzen and Bhante Vimalaramsi call “non-dual awareness.” I even have video of my state of mind after that meditation session here.

This state didn’t last eternally from that day, but it did stay strong over almost three days.

Later, on May 16, 2009 I have another journal entry that shows that I became aware that the change seemed to be permanent some months prior.

Is this Enlightenment? What Is Enlightenment?

I asked myself, ‘What is enlightenment’ and ‘What is the point of enlightenment’ many times prior to 2007. After 2007, I never asked those questions again.

The questions just were never brought up in my mind again.

The questions were empty to begin with. I knew the answers didn’t matter, but my mind asked anyway. I was often perplexed why they kept showing up. I didn’t really care, and yet the questions were being asked by the mind pretty regularly.

They were always there pre-2007 whenever I thought about the changes that happened to me – to the ego – to my letting go of the importance of feelings, emotions, ideas, doing, and being.

I rarely gave any attention to asking the questions in earnest. But, if I did ask, it was out of curiosity to see if there ever came a different answer other than ‘what’s it matter?’ or ‘what is the point of it?’

Some people report that after enlightenment there seems to be a kind of uncaring attitude toward the importance of the state. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore if one is enlightened or not, or if anyone else is. The question drops away after some time in the Jhanas. And sometimes after one meditation session or a moment of clarity.

It’s a change that doesn’t bring much with it that is obvious. It’s subtle because there’s nothing that is going to jump out at you and scream – you’re enlightened now. It’s more that you become aware of it over time as you see that your mind has changed.

I’m talking about myself and how whatever this is has happened with me. I am guessing it happens for some people like this. Maybe not all. I don’t believe in any one path leading to enlightnment. There appear to be multiple paths people take that leads them to some higher-level functioning.

There may be levels of enlightenment. There may be qualitative differences between peoples’ experiences.

My identity, the ‘me,’ has changed dramatically. The ego has dropped off over time (1997-2007), and then has evolved into today’s 2-State Existence. I have an egoless Non-Dual State, and a Vern State that is me and contains whatever ego I have left.

Everything has changed, and yet I can still play the game of being Vern like I was pre-2007.

I remember my former identity. All or most memories seem to be intact.

I can remember things learned before the change in 2007.

I can remember how I acted in the past, and choose to act the same way now in the present if I like.

Being Vern seems like an act of some sort now. It seems like an extra ability on top of the Non Dual State. The ND State feels like the baseline, and deepest level of what ‘i’ have become.

Shinzen Young talks about the non-dual awareness state as enlightenment in this video. He also describes enlightenment here in a really amazing way. I’ll transcribe the video below because it’s just too good not to.

Shinzen Young’s take on Enlightenment in 2 minutes (transcribed from video below)

“Moment by moment you’ve probably noticed that you have thoughts. Moment by moment you’ve probably noticed that you have body sensations. You’ve also probably noticed that as soon as a thought arises or a body sensation arises, there’s a tendency to say this thought is me, this body sensation is me.”

“Nothing mysterious so far.

“The next part you have to sort of use your imagination. Imagine that you still have thoughts and you still have body sensations, but they no longer immediately trap your identity. So your identity is free. Free to be inside your mind and body like it was before, but also free to move outside of your mind and body to inhabit briefly anyone’s mind and body to merge with them or to embrace the entire universe.

“Or to abide at the still point of the turning world beyond time and space. Nothingness that precedes the big bang. So to speak. Metaphorically speaking.

“So, after enlightenment, people’s identity becomes elastic and the mind and body is no longer a place you’re locked in. It’s a home you comfortably can abide in but you can leave anytime you want.

And that’s why we also call it liberation. Being set free.”


That’s the end of the video. As I watched it, I understood that according to Shinzen’s definition, I am enlightened. According to a strict Buddhist interpretation, I’m not fully enlightened as the ‘fetters’ have not been eliminated. Dukkha has not been eliminated when I’m in the “Vern State.” The ego-filled state, that is ‘me.’

When I’m in the Non-Dual State, the fetters have all been eliminated. That state is available every moment of the day when I choose to go silent and drop the game of playing “Vern” for a while.

But, maybe that’s what Buddhists meant? There is this always present state of perfect neutrality that is fully part of who an enlightened person is, and yet that person can also act as his old self with the ego and wants, desires, fears, pain, etc.

Not sure at all. To be honest, it doesn’t make a difference to me what Buddhists call it or Shinzen or anyone calls it. The state is a permanent part of what this being is… and it’s a remarkable tool that has the power to reset all emotions, desires, fears, anticipation, being, and doing, to absolute zero in no time at all.

I would tell you that this reason alone is why you should meditate, except I don’t know that it is available in exactly this way for anyone who follows the same path I did. I hope it is. I haven’t seen anyone follow the same path though.

What Do Other Teachers Think Enlightenment Is?

  • Shinzen Young’s Short Take on Enlightenment (Video)
  • UG Krishnamurti’s Description of His State of Mind (Video at bottom of page)
  • Jiddu Krishnamurti’s Idea of Enlightenment/Illumination is a mind with no conflict. There is no duality. There is no sense of striving, going, moving, achieving. It is not of time. J Krishnamurti on Enlightenment (video)
  • Bhante Vimalaramsi (Theravada Buddhist Monk) on the Experience of Nibbana (Video)
  • Thich Nhat Hanh on Enlightenment (Video)
  • Adyashanti on Enlightenment (Video). He says basically it is not perceiving through the lens of ego. It’s the Non-Dual State.
  • Gary Weber’s Idea of Enlightenment
  • Sam Harris says it isn’t you watching the stream of consciousness go by. There is just the stream.

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