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What is Enlightenment? Nirvana? Nibbana?

A monk in Jhana realm at the top of a local Theravada Buddhist temple in Krabi, Thailand trying to reach enlightenment.

I can pinpoint the day that my search for enlightenment 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. On May 16, 2009 I have another journal entry that shows that the permanent change had been a couple of months prior.

Is this Enlightenment?

I asked myself this question a few times over the years, but the answer didn’t really matter. Anymore. The importance of the question had faded. It was an empty question really. It didn’t even matter, so I rarely asked the question. 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?’

After enlightenment there seems to be a kind of uncaring on the importance of the state. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore if one is enlightened or not or if anyone else is. It’s an instant change, and happens in one meditation session, or in one instant. 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. Your identify of you has changed. Everything has changed, and yet you can still play the game to be the ‘you’ that you were before. You can remember your former identity. You can remember things learned before the change. You can remember how you acted in the past, and choose to act that same way. If you like.

Henepola Gunaratana says of enlightenment…

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 the 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.

What Do Other Teachers Think Englightenment Is?

Shinzen Young’s Short Take on Enlightenment (Video)

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