|Beacon near Howth Lighthouse|
We often thank people for enlightening us about a particular problem or situation, allowing us to grasp the essence of whatever subject or object is in question. However, in spiritual terms the word alludes to a revelation or deep insight into the meaning and purpose of all things, a communication with or an understanding of the mind of God or further still a profound spiritual understanding or a fundamentally changed consciousness whereby everything is perceived as a unity.
Hard to Define:
Like the religious concept "God", enlightenment can be more easily explored by saying what it is not rather than by exploring what it is. In theological language we call such an exploration of God or other deep and complex topic the "negative way" or "via negativa." It is also sometimes called the "via negationis". According to the philosophy behind the via negativa, God is not an object in the universe and, therefore, it is not possible to describe God through words and concepts which are necessarily limiting. It is, instead, better to talk about God based upon what God is not. Still another term for this way of exploring the idea of God is apophatic theology (from Greek ἀπόφασις from ἀπόφημι - apophēmi, "to deny." Essentially all these terms mean the same thing. We proceed by saying what X or Y or Z is not, and the implication then is that X, Y, Z surpasses or transcends what we have just said or explicated. Essentially, the true nature of X, Y or Z is "ineffable" or "unsayable" precisely because it is so far beyond us.
In this regard, the way Masters of spirituality proceed is by telling stories which illustrate what X, Y or Z concept is not, and then by offering paradoxes as to what X, Y or Z maybe. I offer below two stories from de Mello in shortened form that elucidate on what enlightenment may be:
"What is greatest enemy of enlightenment?"
"And where does fear come from?"
"And what is delusion?"
"To think that the flowers around you are poisonous snakes."
"How shall I attain enlightenment?"
"Open your eys and see!"
On the question of his own enlightenment the Master always remained reticent, even though his disciples tried every means to get him to talk.
All the information they had on this subject was what the Master once said to his youngest son who wanted to know what his father felt when he became enlightened. The answer he had given was: "A fool."
When the boy asked why, the Master had replied:
"Well, son, it was like going to great pains to break into a house by climbing a ladder and smashing a window - and realising later that the door of the house was open."
(One Minute Wisdom, pages 87 and 173 respectively)