The E word

One great capability of the internet and digital media is the ability to search. Just out of curiosity, I did a search for the word “enlightenment” on all articles on this blog, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that there were none, not until now. It’ll be interesting to have a look at the e-word. I’m not here to praise “enlightenment” but to give it some rest. Please excuse the Shakespearean wording.

Generally, I avoid the word enlightenment, because it is easy to cause misunderstanding. If we look at the names for spiritual awakening from eastern traditions, the words have a different flavor. The word translation of Nirvana is “cessation”, this is generally used by Buddhists. This seems to be more meaningful. It denotes the cessation of identification with ego, with the personal self. The Jainas and Hindus use the word Moksha, which is liberation. Liberation from the sufferings of the world, other traditions sometimes use Salvation, which is similar to liberation. The other words “Kaivalya” denotes “that alone” or “absolute alone” or “the absolute truth”. Also these old world words, “Sayujya” and “Yoga” are there, both of which means “to be one with” or “union”. Enlightenment won’t be the most appropriate translation for any of the above.

I think originally the word enlightenment was applied more to “The Age of Enlightenment” which is the 17th century cultural and intellectual awaking that started in Europe. This movement was the coming to the prominence of reason over tradition and of religious beliefs. While there are some similarities and connections, this is altogether a different thing. An enlightened person in this sense is one who has seen through the falseness, hypocrisy and exploitation, whether it is in government or religion or other aspects of society. One would have greater reliance on individual observation and understanding rather than blindly following tradition or faith.

The experience of spiritual awakening was perhaps loosely translated as enlightenment. Now, by usage, the word enlightenment has obtained certain connotations and meaning attached to it. It has come to denote something which is the “ultimate attainment” of spiritual search. Rightly or wrongly, it came to denote the attainment of certain “sidhis” or psychic / spiritual powers.

So something that had a focus on “cessation” , “liberation” and “oneness”, changed the focus to “achievement”, “levels of attainment” and so on. It is clear that the mind, the intellect has misappropriated Moksha.

Many a good and awakened spiritual teachers do use the word; may be it is needed to attract more people to hear their message. So a bit of publicity can be condoned, but we have to be vigilant as to what it is that we are searching for.

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