What Enlightenment Is Not

"Having the right view is the most important step to having an enlightenment experience."

Three Signs that An Experience Is Not Enlightenment

In Buddhism, Right View stresses the importance of practicing with the right orientation. In fact, knowing what enlightenment is and what it is not is possibly the greatest help we can have on the spiritual path. Without this knowledge, we are likely to get stuck on many wonderful, blissful, or fascinating spiritual experiences without realizing that these episodes are not themselves the goal.

Haemin Sunim identifies three signs that indicate an experience is not enlightenment.

1. It's impermanentThe Buddha's enlightenment was not a temporary experience. Once he attained nirvana, he was described as being fully awakened and permanently free from the cycle of death and rebirth. Any experience we have that fades or ceases is not an experience of enlightenment, of nirvana, which is beyond temporary conditions.
2. It's objectiveEnlightenment is nondual. This means that it does not separate experience into self and other. So if you have a clear sense of yourself as experiencing something outside of yourself that's happening to you, that's still a dualistic experience. The distinctions we normally make between subject and object are not part of an enlightenment experience.
3. It has a causeIf you produced the experience through hard practice, meditative concentration, or certain rituals that experience is not enlightenment. Nirvana is the ground of your being. It is known as the unconditioned. It is without cause and cannot be caused. It is buddhanature. It is already here.

Now that we understand what enlightenment isn't, let's progress to Unit 1 for a sense of what enlightenment might actually be like.