Enlightenment is Overrated

photo by Wonderlane

I admit it. I am Enlightened. (If I was going to take the Zen approach, I might say I am Enlightened because I know there is no such thing as Enlightenment.) I’m not afraid to admit that I have “reached” Enlightenment. I think far too many people shy away from talking openly about being Enlightened because it’s such a taboo subject. After all, isn’t Enlightenment something reserved for sages and mystics?

Enlightened people aren’t simply sages though; they’re people like you and me. We wear regular clothes, we work regular jobs, we eat, drink, sleep, and go to the grocery store just like everyone else. You don’t have to be a celibate monk living in a monastery to be Enlightened. Placing Enlightenment beyond yourself just perpetuates the idea that you will never reach it.

I think part of the allure (and taboo aspect) of Enlightenment is the fact that it is so mysterious. Ohh, he’s enlightened, he must be above everyone else, seems to be a commonly held superstition. People think that becoming Enlightened brings you further away from reality. You completely transcend it and dematerialize. Poof. He was enlightened. And then, he disappeared. (Sounds more like David Blaine to me.)

Part of the problem is Enlightenment can mean many things. Bringing light to dark places, bringing clarity, and perceiving the truth are a few different interpretations. But ultimately, Enlightenment is understanding your true nature. It’s the realization that you are not a separate ego, you are the eternal, unbounded energy of the universe.

That’s is a pretty powerful realization. And while I wholeheartedly believe in the value and merit of attaining Enlightenment, I think in some ways it is vastly overrated. That’s because people think Enlightenment means the end of their problems, the end of the struggles of living.

People want their mystics and masters to be free from the same struggles that make them want to escape life. They want Enlightenment to be a panacea for their problems. They don’t want their masters to have the same troubles they have, they want them to be beyond them. They see Enlightenment as some grandeur state where the struggles of life no longer exist.

The great Enlightened masters (Christ, Buddha, Moses, Lao Tzu, and many others), did not become Enlightened and retreat into a cave. They did not merely transcend their egos. They became great big egos. They engaged life completely and fearlessly and shook the earth from its very foundation. They did not seek Enlightenment as an escape from life, but as a means to live more completely.

Many people seek Enlightenment as an escape from life. And while Enlightenment can do many things, there are some things it cannot do:

  • Your realization that everything is non-dual will not break all of the previous self-limiting and fear-based beliefs you have with yourself. Breaking those agreements will require hard work and perspiration to change.
  • Wearing a Buddha necklace or getting a tattoo of the Yin and Yang will not stop you from having to solve real problems, like how to deal with the job you can’t stand.
  • Enlightenment will not solve your relationship problems with others or with yourself. It won’t make your husband any less barbaric, and it won’t lessen the wrath of your wife’s PMS.
  • It will not get you out of debt or free you from financial struggle. It won’t stop you from making stupid decisions, like buying an HDTV on credit, after you just missed your mortgage payment.
  • Transcending your ego will not make your ego disappear. You will still have to deal with ego-based desire and suffering.

Reaching Enlightenment will not turn you into an invincible ball of energy high above the world and all its troubles. It will not make you immune to the sometimes callous and careless words of others. Perceiving the truth of the Yin and Yang, the Diamond Sutra or the Bhagavad Gita will not make all of your problems go away.

Despite all the things that Enlightenment can’t do, there are certainly many benefits to “achieving” it. Most importantly, it will help you understand your true nature and help you find peace in your heart.

While Enlightenment can’t solve all your problems it certainly can help you realize:

  • Death and birth are an illusion. (But someone poking you in the eye still might hurt.)
  • Life is a dream with the brain awake.
  • Beliefs are subjective. Something is only true if you believe it is. (Except maybe gravity.)
  • Life is essentially one, everything is consciousness.

With these realizations you can:

  • Know that you are eternal and there is no reason to fear death, or anything for that matter. Essentially, if you are experiencing fear, there’s a bug in your consciousness.
  • What you do to others, you are really doing to yourself.
  • You know yourself through the difference of others, you perceive in others the reflection of yourself. Ie. if you think everyone else is an asshole, it just might be you.
  • Because we are all one, compassion and love become the highest principles.

Reaching Enlightenment doesn’t mean your soul shoots out of the top of your heart and you become omniscient. Enlightenment can help solve some of the toughest problems of life. But it is not a means of escape from life.

In reality, enlightenment brings you into a deeper, more intimate relationship with life.

Rather, Enlightenment means dropping into your body more completely. It means living life more fully, passionately and fearlessly.

Enlightenment isn’t about becoming omniscient and escaping life. It’s about living with verve and passion. Am I the only one that’s noticed people put Enlightenment above themselves, out of reach? What do you think, do people have the wrong idea about Enlightenment?

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154 Comments on "Enlightenment is Overrated"

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Cody McKibben
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Just came across this one, but this is a great post Jonathan!

Your discussion of enlightenment here makes me think in the following terms: life is a series of decisions between fear and love. This is something I struggle a tremendous amount with—I want to choose love, but I know I act out of fear very frequently. I’m currently reading the book Love is Letting Go of Fear by Jerry Jampolsky, which is a great document that puts the fear versus love concept in simple terms.

Thanks again for sharing your insights, as usual.

Ariel - We Are All One
Guest
While it was amusing in the beginning to hear an “I” claiming to be enlightened, the post itself was bang-on fantastic. It is so true that people have a lot of misperceptions about what enlightenment is and what it isn’t. There’s also this idea, like you said, that enlightenment is some far off difficult to attain state, when it’s simply the realization of your natural state, of who you truly are, and who you were this whole time. The idea of attaining enlightenment reminds me of people who try to get into the Now moment… WHILE they’re already in the… Read more »
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[…] while back, my friend Jonathan Mead over at Illuminated Mind wrote an article on enlightenment in which he […]

Deniro
Guest

An excellent post. Dont take it seriously peeps for your own good.
You just see reality for what it is. A brand new you in a brand new world , but nothing really has changed in the outside.

Deniro
Guest

I must add,its the universe getting conscious of itself. After all those crying and sufferings (in my case), the knowing is that it is as if it wasnt even you who was going through that. Very mind blowing, yet it seems like its nothing also. I agree 100% with the post.

Padma
Guest

I couldn’t disagree more. There is a difference between knowing the truth and seeing the truth. You can’t break the cycle of death and rebirth from simply understanding, you can only break it by becoming truly enlightened.

Those who know, do not talk about it.

Those talk about it, do not know.

Lacey M.
Guest

Awesome article!!!
I would love to read more of your writing!

laotsey taotsey
Guest

I am enlightened by the Sun.

Ron
Guest
There are different levels of enlightenment. Once you have crossed that barrier, it’s as if you open a door to a whole new “reality”, dimension, whatever you want to call it. It is definitely very easy to fall back to previous challenges ( Your mind breaking the peace, being affected by the world around in a positive or negative way). This is when different practices come into place. First you will have the practice (as the actual techniques, exercises…Yoga meditation…), then you will have the practice that can happen every second in your life. At work, at home, on the… Read more »
Sarah
Guest
When I read this, I felt for the first time, “Oh, my! Another part of myself has also discovered these things!” And I felt so hopeful that maybe more and more people will “wake up”. A question I have for you – and maybe you’ve already answered it, but I haven’t read it yet – is this: Is Enlightenment a fixed state that you never leave once achieved, or can you experience it in fits-and-starts at first, which is, what I think is happening with me. I’m new to this. I also noticed that you’re reading Everyday Raw, which I… Read more »
Eric Carter
Guest
Thank you very much for posting you experience and insight. I loved how you chose to bring out the point that enlightenment is everyone’s equally! I also liked how you described the compassion of a non-dual nature. One thing I would like to gain clarity on, is language. I feel there is a difference between being enlightened and having realized the Self, your Essence. I feel when someone takes their knowledge of the Self and applies all that efficiency. They gain enough rest in the nervous system to live in the Self 24 hours a day. This person would witness… Read more »
random dude
Guest
Thanks for your view of enlightenment. I didnt wanna read it and started reading it with a, sort of, pissy attitude just because of the thread name, Enlightenment is Overrated. But you hit the nail on the head. It is really cool to see a sort of cynical response to the steriotypical view of enlightenment. It cant be found in a book, or set out of reach. The more you “want” it, the less you have it. No one can tell you what it is, or how to find it. it is what it is. nothing more nothing less. Thanks… Read more »
Larry
Guest

I was once trapped in a cave for the better part of two days until rescuers managed to dig me out of the hole. And that’s all I really need to say.

Rienk Kroese
Guest

I could say any number of ‘wise’ things, but this is all i want myself to say: “Stop trying, just do or don’t”

Ross
Guest

Who are you?

Ross
Guest

I don’t believe you’re enlightened.

John E
Guest

I scratch the itch to feel as one.
The itch is gone as I am one.

Steven Sadleir
Guest

This might also be of interest

Here is the link to “Christ Enlightened eBook:”
http://www.selfawarenessproducts.com/ChristEnlightenedEbook/ChristEnlightenedEbook.pdf

Here is the link to the “Intro to The Lost Teaching of Jesus Course:”
http://www.selfawarenessproducts.com/LostTeachingsofJesusCourse/LostTeachingsofJesusIntro1.mp3

Seeps
Guest

I’m enlightened and its been hell my life crumbled. After two visits to the phyce ward, I realize theres something more, I Must do. Im looking for knowledge and direction.

jian
Guest

i like your writing, few questions:
1. did you reach your enlightenment around age 29
2. who have found that are enlightened
3. what you think about astrology
4. what you think about 2012

thanks

jian
Guest

and for those who are interested in this topic, please check out a video called:
“The words of my perfect teacher”

Priyank
Guest

I appreciate the article very much! I fully agree with what is written and want to add the following:
Will power is “endurance toward enlightenment”.

If I believe that I can get enlightened then I must exert my Will power all the time to reach the state. Exerting the Will power will lead me to realize that I am beyond this body, emotions, and mind. I am the controller of it, I am someone else residing in this body, so keep exerting Will Power for Enlightenment.

Jian
Guest

I think enlightenment is not overrated, you need to realized that you are not completely in control of it, just like your birth and everything that is happening(the things around you). It’s only an idea, in Buddha’s story, when he reached enlightenment, it was 7 days of bliss(debatable), but even 7 days is not much in a lifetime. what happens after the 7 days? There are Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra which may offer you some ideas

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bubba
Guest

you are not enlightened.

Laurean
Guest

“It’s the realization that you are not a separate ego, you are the eternal, unbounded energy of the universe.”

Reaching enlightenment is a PSYCHOLOGICAL process, the consequence of not identifying yourself with your feelings, thoughts etc. There is no realization, there’s just pure awareness. You my friend are an idiot. Not that it would matter in the end.

ShannonFisher
Guest

Hahaha, I agree. I was tempted to not look at this when i read the title, but i am definitely glad i did. Thank you, this helps a lot.

rideforever
Guest

There are lot of folks out there who have had a minor realisation, or a stuck in a conceptual idea of enlightenment … and who talk this way.

“No, it’s nothing special … you still have problems in your life, bla, bla”

I don’t know where you are – but it’s not the same place as Buddha, Bodhidharm, Osho, Mahavira, Krishnamurti.

Frankly you are quite stupid to talk the way you do.

affiliateregz
Guest

@rideforever Your so right. One who is enlightened would absolutely not be affected by the words of others. The author claims otherwise. This guy isn’t enlightened. I agree with a couple of pints the author made by his best point is that enlightenment is achievable by all. Sad truth is that it won’t be achieved by most

rideforever
Guest
Certainly in every era each seeker is faced with a sea of people claiming to be ‘seekers’ claiming to have found ‘it’ … all who compromised themselves at some point. This is always the way. In Buddha’s time and before, and now. Truth. Well you get what you ‘deserve’ … the pressure to compromise is everywhere. A vast ocean of darkness … can you hold a flickering candle against that vast ocean … because that is the job. If you are looking for a crutch, if you are looking for a place to lay down and rest because you can’t… Read more »
RienkKroese
Guest

Pretty. :)

dictator
Guest
 What a dishonor you have done to all the readers of this article interested in enlightening themselves through meditation practice. Realize that you have given spiritual seekers a excuse not to seek truth, a excuse for them to use when they have no motivation to quit They will say “it’s overrated anyway”. My friend this is just horrific.    You should consider to remove this article off this website, misinformation plagues the internet heavily already so do your job a remove this at once.    Honestly you are just spreading darkness. I am just in shock to see the title… Read more »
Alex Smart
Guest

Love life, share your heart with others, and break through the bars of this monetary and economic system. Enlightenment, to me, means not being a slave to man made materialism,  while using science & technology to allow other souls to be free rather than enslaved. Work to make the world a better place,  &not to perpetuate useless so called profits via sacrificial wars,. Be one with nature, Be one with nature. 

KrishnaAlpha
Guest

when one reach enlightenment, you become totally neutral, and you become wise and all knowing, but you are not all powerful. it is why Buddha didn’t free every being from suffering. you will not fear death nor fight it when it comes. you will see that everything is you and you are everything. if you cut a tree you also cut yourself: like Jesus said: “once you know the truth you will love your neighbor just like you love yourself. learn more at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68KgIISSSas

Namesareforflirting
Guest
Totally agree. It’s not about reaching a state of bliss where you don’t feel any bad feelings anymore. It’s being the one who feels both, all the time. You are the one who contain all the possibilities of likes and dislikes. But I have to say, it makes every day a new one, every thought is new, dreams are new, and they all give a deep understanding and learning experience about yourself. Getting to know yourself on the core level makes you fall in love with yourself. You can take a taxi home alone from the club at 2am, not giving a sh*t about… Read more »
Namesareforflirting
Guest
Totally agree. It’s not about reaching a state of bliss where you don’t feel any bad feelings anymore. It’s being the one who feels both, all the time. You are the one who contain all the possibilities of likes and dislikes. But I have to say, it makes every day a new one, every thought is new, dreams are new, and they all give a deep understanding and learning experience about yourself. Getting to know yourself on the core level makes you fall in love with yourself. You can take a taxi home alone from the club at 2am, not giving a sh*t about… Read more »
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dlarsenn
Guest
all the comments about ‘reaching.’ there is nothing to reach. drop everything and then who is going to drop the dropper? a better term is realization. the realization to be prior to all. i claim existence but cannot be conceptualized becasue i am prior to the thought. consider that for a momment. don’t YOU have to be prior to the thought for it to be experienced? if you are prior to the thought and cannot be conceptualized, then you are not an object. and if not object, then not subject to time. what to see is that conceptualization has no… Read more »
zulu
Guest
Well, you’re right and wrong at the same time. progress in terms of enlightenment actually brings powers that you havent had before. for example it is likely that you will have visions of the future. another thing that is happening to me right now is that I recently received the ability to see through material things (like the matter actually becomes transparent. its really weird and amazes me all the time when i do that) im sure there are a lot more powers (check out siddha). Of course thosr powers are given to u to use them in the moat… Read more »
rideforever
Guest

Certainly there is something to do, perhaps you can only say “there is nothing to do” once you have done it.

Thoughtless awareness may be a breakthrough but it is not the end, just the end of the beginning.

Thinking is an important tool.

Most people appear to be trapped on the surface.

But how deep it goes is unknown, it is deepening all the time as the developments of Buddhism demonstrate.

Inaction or “peace” is another hiding place, like those above.

“We are threatened by the Now.”
“Now is definitely Now.”
“We experience fantastic precicion.”
Chogyam Trungpa

SocietyHigh
Guest
Enlightenment is free from desire. It is at peace within and creating through that peace without. It is also joy, love, equality, etc. Enlightenment can be a broad definition. However, enlightenment isn’t something that just appears.. one must understand and practice these things to maintain the energy. I also read the comments about BELIEF. Lets define belief: “1) An acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. 2) Something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction.” Therefore belief has nothing to do with enlightenment as believing something is not real fact or experience.… Read more »
Conor
Guest

So what your saying is that the American misconception of enlightenment, which most of us believe is true ‘enlightenment’ is overrated.

dave
Guest
To understand enligtenment it is best to apply a definition rather than immediately begin with a description! I will not rely on the Buddhist approach since it uses a description although the Arupa Jhanas come closest in meaning however disconnected from Nirvana. It is preferable to employ the meaning from contemporary Hindu mystics who by various accounts/appearances manifested a higher order of Spiritual development namely: Maharishi Yogi of TM fame, Swami Yogananda of Self Realization Fellowship and Swami Muktananda of Siddha Yoga. For simplicity will confine my remarks to the lowest level of Enlightenment which has been called in order… Read more »
Michael
Guest
Has anyone ever actually personally been next to an enlightened person when they’ve died? I’m not any more or less enlightened than anyone else I’ve met (that I know of), and I’m scared shitless of dying. I think the big E is just another elaborate story people comfort themselves with in order to escape admitting that, in most cases, you’re going to die scared shitless, whether it’s slow or fast coming, and unless you die in your sleep or pretty quickly in an accident you don’t see coming, it’s probably gonna hurt like hell leading up to it too. My… Read more »
dave
Guest
Speaking for myself as a 40 year meditator, I can certainly lend credence to the possibility of enligtenment. The specific relevant experiences that have occurred in my life cannot easily be put into words. Since the majority live our their lives alternating between the usual 3 states of conscousness: waking, dreaming and deep sleep without access to higher states then it is difficult for them to imagine what lies beyond. An analogy would be to live ones life under a dark cloud cover and coming to believe that whatever light comes thru the clouds is all that is available to… Read more »
Dc
Guest

To know that you will never experience suffering again, short of being water boarded, is pretty life changing. The fact that you cite Pms as a potential agititant suggests that you probably don’t know how to properly meditate, much less are you “Enlightened .”

Tom
Guest
Enlightenment is the realization that all thoughts, ideas, beliefs,arise and subside in consciousness .This consciousness is what we trully are. The idea of who you think you are is nothing more than a belief presently arising in consciousness at this very moment.There is no you to ever get this . Never the less there can be the realization of it. “There is no dreamer, There is no dreamed, There is only the dreaming” – Ramesh Balsekar
Luke Paakh
Guest
Your post may or may not be about enlightenment, I really don’t know a great deal about all of the traditions that use the term, but please don’t give up on the idea that you can truly escape from suffering. I stumbled onto your blog because I’m trying to research some experiences I’ve had recently that has really shown me the fundamental truth behind dukkha or suffering. The four noble truths explain it very well I think: 1. There is suffering. 2. Suffering is caused by craving (or wanting of any kind). 3. You can escape dukkha. 4. The way… Read more »
Faye
Guest
The journey of enlightenment is not for everyone because full-enlightenment calls for self sacrifice and giving up the desires of this world we see .. and that’s alright, because it’s the choice of the enlighten one, to suffer for the care of the unenlightened … yet the journey of enlightenment calls for choosing the way of Positive energy over ways of negative energy … and if one choose Positive energy, then this world will see you as an enemy and treat you in a very hateful manner … because for some time, this world had fallen into hands whom formulate… Read more »
dave
Guest
For those interested in advancing quickly toward Self-realization (where the mind merges permanently into universal consciousness) then it is most helpful to treat this level as a project and break it down into manageable stages. It is easy to speculate about this state and how it will affect one’s life but how to advance is another issue altogether. With stages then one can begin to enjoy the amazing benefits as well know where they are on the path. Stage 1: The pure body (nervous system). Removing stress deposits from the system via deep meditation (samadhi) and various other approaches (ex.… Read more »
Jaromy Barker
Guest
Things to remember when pertaining to enlightenment, it is the highest level of life. It is not only being one with everything but also realizing that the world is exactly how it seems only to the beholder. I’ve noticed a lot of people claiming to be enlightened beings, but for my own path I cannot believe it. Let’s not forget that Buddha himself said “if you meet a Buddha, kill him.” Why kill him? For reaching the end of his learning capabilities and to allow them to pass happily and peacefully. The enlightened before us were not this way because… Read more »

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