Alright, let’s talk about the "E-Word," one of those combinations of letters that carries almost as much baggage as the c-word or the n-word, depending, of course, on who you hang with and what country you call home.

People argue about this word; they criticize it; they make up stories about it. Lineages have lived and died around this word; groups have been split down the middle because of it.


Let's take a look at how people discuss enlightenment in the context of Hinduism or Buddhism (as neither the Kabbalah nor Sufism nor Christian mysticism have this exact concept):

A statement is made about enlightenment. Then, other people argue over the truth of what’s been said.

Kind of like a mystical version of Oprah, but different. Oprah at least asks the experts to give us theories to consider.

But those who talk about enlightenment are quick to say they haven't reached it.

Ah, then, what on Earth are they discussing? What is the source of their ideas? How can all of them be so certain that meditation will take someone to this vaguely defined state called enlightenment?

They can't!

They just repeat the dogma they got from some book or lecture.

What they claim is, "My guru reached enlightenment and he said…" But if you ask that guru, he or she is sure to say, "Am I enlightened? Definitely not."

Of course then the student tells you, "But that’s proof that they are enlightened, the fact that they won’t say that they are!"

So, let me get this straight. No one will acknowledge having reached enlightenment, yet those who have only seen or heard of it second-hand think they can recognize it? Surely you can see there is a big problem here.

Try replacing the idea of enlightenment with the idea of levitation and see how little sense this logic makes:

TEACHER: "No, no, I don't know how to levitate."

STUDENT: "The simple fact that he says he cannot levitate must mean that he can levitate, even with no supporting evidence to prove it! So, of course, meditation leads to levitation!"

Those who try to change the definition of enlightenment from a permanent change in thoughts and perception (and the subject of those thoughts and perception) to "something one moves in and out of" are no better.

That’s just a huge cop-out.

I can write lengthy dissertations claiming "chocolate" is a new word for "vanilla," but so what? This will never turn Haagen Daz Vanilla Bean into Lindt 77% dark chocolate.

This bit about changing the goal brings to mind Andrew Weil, a non-practicing physician who was very obese for many years. He has recently said that the best form of health is defined as being slightly overweight, but fit. You can have 3 guesses as to what Weil's physical shape is now… and two of them do not count.

Tiger Woods doesn't get to move the hole to the place his ball just landed, and it's not alright to change the definition of enlightenment just because you aren't where you think it should be.

This brings me to my point - instead of moving the target, redefining enlightenment or engaging in endless arguments about what enlightenment is and is not with those who have never been enlightened, let's try another perspective: Enlightenment is a mythical concept. It's a story. It's a made-up word. It's the best sales pitch of all time.

Let’s begin with that last idea, that it's the best sales pitch of all time. Any idea how to sell stuff? It's easy. Get people to believe they have some problem. Explain that you know the solution. The larger this fictitious problem, plus the more you can convince people that you have the fastest, easiest answer to it, the more money you can ask for your solution.

For hundreds of thousands of years, if not longer, our species has been refining a wonderful mental ability which has helped us develop all kinds of creative survival methods. This skill is to feel dissatisfied with something and look for an answer to it.

Stomach growling? Excellent, search for food… or learn to grow it so that you always have some!

Need to come in out of the rain? Okay, what if you learned to build a shelter rather than always having to search for a cave?

Feeling some negative emotions? Offer sacrifices to the gods or, these days, see your therapist or pick up the latest Self-Torture-Help book.

Now, let’s reconsider that sales pitch. You wanted happiness? Sorry, it can’t be found in the world you live in, unless you do what it takes to reach total enlightenment! This, and only this, will give you never-ending, complete happiness… actually, it will give you something even BETTER than happiness!

And the bucks roll in.

Searching for happiness is a normal process of the human mind. So, when something promises EVERLASTING happiness, who would want to pass that up?

However, just the claim that there is a path like this doesn't mean it will actually get you anywhere.

It pains me to do this, however, I'm going to need to wait for another essay to prove that the Buddha did not reach enlightenment. In the meantime, why not try getting off the path, not because there is no end to be reached, but because there isn't any problem that such a journey is needed to solve?

Author's Bio: 

Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."

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