What Is Enlightenment?

Enlightenment means to become a Buddha – the pinnacle of human development and potential – and it is the ultimate aim in Buddhism. It is something that every single being on earth has the potential to achieve.

Right now we’re not Buddhas – instead, we experience a life full of problems and constant ups and downs. We’re stuck like this because our minds automatically project nonsense onto everything and we really believe that’s reality. We act in ways we think will bring us true happiness, but which end up only bringing misery.

[See: What Is Ethics?]

Normally, we do what we want with little thought to how it might affect others, because we feel that we’re the center of the universe, the only one that counts. This kind of thinking does not correspond to reality: it is selfish and brings unhappiness to ourselves and others. To become enlightened, we first need to start:

  • Understanding the effects of our behavior on ourselves and others, and so refrain from acting destructively
  • Realizing how everything actually exists, and so no longer let our projections fool us.

When we stop believing our mind’s projections, we also stop disturbing emotions like anger, hatred, greed and jealousy from arising based on that confusion. We will never again act compulsively on our negative feelings. All of this requires:

  • Ethical self-discipline, with the strength to refrain from unwise behavior
  • Concentration, to avoid distraction or dullness
  • Wisdom, to discriminate between what is helpful and harmful, and what is true and false
  • Emotional balance, from cultivating positive qualities like love and compassion.

Even if we gain peace of mind from this, it’s not enough: we still won’t be able to see the interdependence and interconnectedness of absolutely everything and everyone. Therefore, we’ll never be quite sure of the best way to help others.

For this, we need to become fully enlightened Buddhas, where our minds don’t project anything at all. We see clearly the interdependence of all existence and so know exactly how to help others. Our bodies have unlimited energy, we can communicate perfectly with everyone, and our minds understand absolutely everything. Our love, compassion and equal concern for every being is so strong, it’s as if each were our beloved only child [See: What Is Compassion?]. We work to benefit others without expecting anything in return. When we’re enlightened, it’s impossible to lose our patience or get angry, to cling to people or to ignore them because we feel too busy or tired.

As a Buddha, we are also omniscient, but not omnipotent. We can’t eliminate others’ suffering, but we can show the way through teaching them and by being a living example. To travel the path all the way to enlightenment, we need to:

  • Build up an incredible store of positive force: selflessly benefiting others as best we can
  • Work toward understanding reality: stop projecting nonsense on to the world.

We all have the working materials – our physical bodies and basic human intelligence – to build up the causes for enlightenment. Like the sky, our minds and hearts are by their very nature unpolluted by emotional turmoil and disturbing thoughts. All we need to do is develop them so that they can reach their full potential.

Enlightenment might seem like an almost impossible-to-reach goal, and it is very difficult to achieve – no one ever claimed it was easy! But, to aim in that direction gives incredible meaning to our lives. Understanding our interconnectedness with everyone, we protect ourselves from depression and anxiety. Our lives become full as we embark on the greatest adventure there is: attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all.