Enlightenment: the Dark Side

Depiction of the Wheel of Existence, showing the six realms of existence, with Lord Yama the "God" of Death in attendance. Applique and embroidery on silk. (circa 1800)

The Question

Abiding in bliss sounds great, but wouldn't it get boring after a while? Why seek to achieve enlightenment and/or nirvana and become One with the All?

From various sources, including conversations with various people (some real), I've constructed a ramshackle, unstable, incomplete and misleading picture of what some aspects of enlightenment/nirvana mean, to some people.

But I don't understand what the benefits are; I don't understand why achieving enlightenment should be set as a goal.

According to some schools of Buddhist thought, life is full of pain and misery. Then you die and are reborn... into another life of pain and suffering... over and over again, until you escape Samsara (the "Wheel of Cyclic Existence"), achieve nirvana and become One with the All.

Reincarnation is to be avoided. Life is to be avoided. The self must be liberated from the endless wheel of cyclic existence.

Or so they say. But is that true for everyone?

Not every life is full of pain and suffering. Life may be full of delusion, but what's so terrible about a bit of delusion once in a while? And even if every single life, without exception, is nothing but pain and suffering and delusion and aversion, some might still prefer that over nothingness, blissful or otherwise.

The earliest known Wheel of Life (bhavachakra) depiction is painted on a wall in the Ajanta Cave complex in India. Holding the wheel is Yama, The earliest known Wheel of Life (bhavachakra) depiction is painted on a wall in the Ajanta Cave complex in India. Holding the wheel is Yama, "God" of Death.

Right now, with my limited understanding and unspiritual nature, I can't see why enlightenment should be preferred over cyclic existence.

I'm childish and ignorant and have much to learn. I'm hostage to the mind and the self. But right now, the ignorant child foolishly believes he does not want to be subsumed into the All.

I want to keep learning and growing. I don't want an end to cyclic existence. I want more cyclic existence.

According to Wikipedia (5th January 2014) nirvana is "the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished". Well, I'm just stupid and selfish enough to prefer the fires of my desire to be burning bright or at least ignited rather than extinguished.

I'd rather be flame than ash.

I want to live this life hard and well, and try my hardest to do whatever it is I've chosen for my mission.

And if I fail miserably and despairingly, I want to pick myself up and start all over again. And again. And again.

What am I not getting? What am I not perceiving correctly?

I've put these questions to a number of people. I've looked for answers in books. I've consulted the Akashic Record.

The Best Answer so Far

For me, so far the answer that has come closest to what I perceive as the truth is from a teacher of mine. I'm not happy with the answer, but it's the best I've got.

Enlightenment is not an object or something that can be achieved. It is NOT anything that can be thought up or experienced. Enlightenment is not a place one gets to. It is a place to come from. Who said you should set it it as a goal? The one who seeks it has nothing to do with enlightenment and yet enlightenment is the space in which that one arises.

Setting enlightenment as a goal is like trying to see your own eyes with your eyes, or to try to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. It is impossible to achieve enlightenment just like a fish cannot try to swim or even set a goal for achieving the ocean.


This is one of a series of related posts firing photons at the dark subject of enlightenment.


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mgeorge said...

One book described the evolution of the typical religion in 4 stages, somewhat as follows:
1. Some direct, numinous experience. We need not rule out psychedelics, mental illness, trauma etc. as a driver. Perhaps some unadultrated Taoism, Buddhism or Sufiism applies. These reject some of the later theology outright.
2. A focus on emotion: persecution, joy, etc.
3. Ritual and rules. IMO, the motives for members were (a) livelihood and acceptance (b) deceit and politics (c) explanations: a stand-in for science (d) "pain and suffering". The last means that the monsters among us were "doing God's work."
4. Social welfare or activism. The author did not mention subsequent disintegration.

masterymistery said...

Hi mgeorge,

Sorry for delay responding, I took myself offline for a couple days.

As with most aspects (all aspects?) of human culture, religion has an adaptive purpose in evolutionary terms, perhaps helping us impose the discipline of deferred gratification upon ourselves ("you'll get your reward in Heaven"), thereby facilitating a voluntary suppression of "self-focus" in favour of "group-focus". Or soemthing?!

Or maybe it's the secret weapon the elites have been using for tens of thousands of years to maintaion their grip on power...

Thanks for stopping by.