Enlightenment Reframed

Enlightenment Reframed

When East Meets West in the Consulting Room

By Walter Truett Anderson

May/June 2004

Several decades have come and gone since Eastern enlightenment traditions, such as Buddhism, began migrating into the Western world, and by now, just about everybody has some idea of what the wordenlightenment is supposed to mean. Ask the average person on the street and you're likely to be informed that it's a state of near-supernatural wisdom attained by great spiritual leaders, and also by students who find the right guru and faithfully absorb his teachings over many, many years. This state involves a loss of ego and an awareness of unity with the cosmos--hence the famous joke about the Zen master who said to the hot-dog salesman: "Make me one with everything."

That description isn't entirely wrong, but it leaves out a lot. One of the things it leaves out is the fact that enlightened beings are still human, with human kinks in their character and human gaps in their knowledge. This is an important omission that feeds the spiritual hero-worship so prevalent among seekers after enlightenment. The common understanding of enlightenment also leaves out most of the human race. Not included are people who aren't spiritual, who don't study with a teacher of Zen, Hindu, or Sufi lineage, or who do study, but find that the teachers don't quite speak their language.

Fortunately, a more comprehensive view of enlightenment is now emerging. Building on inquiry across a number of fields, together with the rediscovery of much wisdom of the past, it considers…

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