What does Enlightenment mean?
Corné van Nijhuis
As you are used to, I write an article every month for Vedanta vani where I address a topic that appeals to me in my ongoing search for the mystery of existence. Most of the time it is a subject on which I try to formulate my own thoughts more specifically than ever before. This means that for me personally it is a deepening of my own knowledge, but at the same time I hope that it may also inspire others in the formation of their image of reality.
This is how I realized in recent days that I encounter the concept of enlightenment in various texts that I read. At the same time I realized that the concept in those texts was actually used very implicitly, without clear connotation, as if everyone understood what it entailed. In this contribution I would therefore like to take a closer look at what, in my own opinion, is and what is not an aspect of the concept of ‘enlightenment’.
What isn’t it?
Enlightenment, in my view, has nothing to do with “merging into the Self.” For we are already the Self. Nor is it about a “sense of oneness” or “unification with or returning to God.” For the Divine Self (Paramatman) cannot become “anything” because it is all-pervading and immutable. Nor is it about ‘experiencing the Self’. Enlightenment in itself is not an experience. Experiences come and go. Lighting is there and against permanent. Also, there are no levels of enlightenment, either it is someone or it is not, although the disappearance of ignorance can certainly be gradual. At the same time, lighting is not timeless, on the contrary. It is a real event in time in the empirical world. The idea that “the person” or “the ego” becomes enlightened is also incorrect. It is the Jiva that becomes enlightened and that happens mentally, in the spirit. It is ultimately the Jiva that experiences ignorance of the Self and seeks knowledge. The mind is only the instrument in this.
Enlightenment is also not about becoming free. The Self is already free. What matters is that this fact is realized in the mind. Nor is enlightenment about fulfilling all aspirations or getting all the things you always wanted. Enlightenment is precisely the realization that all ambitions and possessions do not matter in the end. Nor is it a next evolutionary step in human development. Nor does it have anything to do with the individual Soul evolving into a higher state. There is no “higher Self” that we have to reach. There is only “The Self”. Nor is it an expansion of consciousness. Consciousness already exists everywhere and always. Enlightenment has nothing to do with liberating oneself from the world in an empirical sense. It has to do with freeing the mind from the idea that the world around you influences who you really are. Enlightenment also does not mean an end to having desires. Desires will still arise and possibly still prompt action. The ultimate purpose of desires is to experience the desire to return to the Self, and desires therefore no longer serve a functional purpose once the Self is realized. This means that enlightenment frees us from our dependence on satisfying our selfish desires. Nor does enlightenment mean that we become omniscient or endowed with special psychic powers. Becoming enlightened also does not mean that the (appearance of the) world ceases to exist. It is simply just knowing that there is nothing but the Self.
What is it?
Enlightenment is an event in the mind by which “the ignorance of the Self” is removed from the Jiva. It is therefore the Jiva that becomes enlightened as soon as the true knowledge of the Self removes the ignorance. The “knowledge of the Self” is the direct knowledge, the direct understanding, that you already are what you seek. This transformation of the mind arises from a particular thought (akhaNDAkAra vRRitti – formlessness or undividedness) in the mind.
Approached differently: through prolonged spiritual practice and deepening of knowledge of the Self, the “ignorance of the Self” of the Jiva is nullified. Once this happens the person is no longer Jiva but Brahman. It is the complete absence of dependence on anything or anyone.
Enlightenment comes only as soon as the Jiva realizes that it is actually Atman and Brahman, at the same time the belief of being a Jiva disappears. In terms of the well-known metaphor, the snake need not become the rope – after all, there never was a snake. What is needed is direct knowledge of it.
Enlightenment, then, is the cessation of identification as an individual. It is seeing through the illusion that we are separate persons, separate from everything and everyone. But ultimately there are no others – we are all ONE. Enlightenment, therefore, is the direct recognition of the truth “I am Brahman”, like all that exists.
I hope to have given you insight into my vision of enlightenment and that it may contribute to finding your truth.
Corné van Nijhuis
Dhr Corne van Nijhuis is a scholar and has contributed numerous articles on diverse subjects. He has varied interests and has travelled widely almost to all parts of the globe.