Enlightenment is related to spirituality but we use it mainly to express our admiration for someone. “He or she has an enlightened mind,” for example. We are referring to them as being brilliant, clear, intuitive and perhaps revolutionary. Someone with an enlightened mind has something we want or aspire to.
Enlightenment in the true spiritual sense of the term is something deeper, and much more difficult to attain or achieve. It has other synonyms. Self-Perfection, Self Realisation, God Realisation, Realisation. An enlightened being is one who has reached the highest in the spiritual life. They have perfected their nature and advanced or evolved to such an extent they can identify with infinite truth or vastness but it is different, much more important and a much greater achievement from the short burst of illumination we refer to when we are illumined about a particular issue or subject.
Sri Chinmoy clarifies when asked about the differences between Enlightenment and God-Realisation.
“Full enlightenment, complete and all-illumining enlightenment, is God-realisation. But sometimes, when a seeker is in his highest meditation, he gets a kind of inner illumination or enlightenment, and for half an hour or an hour his whole being, his whole existence, is illumined. But then, after an hour or two, he becomes his same old self; he again becomes a victim to desire and undivine qualities. Enlightenment has taken place, but it is not the Transcendental Enlightenment which occurred in the case of the Buddha and other spiritual Masters. That kind of all-fulfilling, all-illumining enlightenment is equivalent to God-realisation. God-realisation means constant and eternal enlightenment, transcendental Enlightenment. When we get God-realisation, automatically infinite Illumination takes place in our outer as well as our inner existence.
The enlightenment that is spoken of here in the West and also in Japan is only a temporary burst of light in the aspiring consciousness. After a short while it pales into insignificance, because there is no abiding reality in it. Abiding reality we will get only with constant, eternal and transcendental Illumination, which is God-realisation. Sometimes when we speak of enlightenment, we mean that we have been in darkness about a particular subject for many years and now we have inner wisdom, or now that particular place in our consciousness is enlightened. But this is just a spark of the boundless Illumination, and that little spark we cannot call God-realisation.”
How do we get enlightenment? It is through meditation and the spiritual life. One gradually absorbs, draws in and grows into light, ridding themselves of darkness and imperfection. But is this the only way to get enlightenment?
“No. Prayer is another way,” says Sri Chinmoy. “In the Western world you pray, and in the Eastern world we prefer to meditate. These are two roads which eventually converge and lead to the same destination. If you pray most soulfully, you will definitely get illumination. Again, if you meditate soulfully, you are sure to get illumination. Some people like to pray while others like to meditate. If you feel that prayer is most effective in your life, then naturally you will pray most soulfully. And if you feel that meditation helps you most convincingly in your life of aspiration, then you try to meditate. It is the individual who has to make the choice,” he states.
Buddhists refer to enlightenment the most in their teachings and path. Siddharta became Lord Buddha, the enlightened one after his intense yearning for illumination took him to his ultimate goal. Very rarely, if at all is God mentioned by Lord Buddha or in Buddhist teachings. Sri Chinmoy was asked about God and light. The question and part of the answer is below.
Question: Whereas we emphasise God and the soul on our path, the Buddhist philosophy on these matters is one of silence. Usually this silence is interpreted as meaning that God may or may not exist and that the soul may or may not exist. It would be very helpful for us to have your word on what the Buddha meant or intended.
Sri Chinmoy: Buddhists may not believe in the soul but they do believe in light. Lord Buddha spoke about inner light. For us, that light is the soul. The soul embodies illumination. So what they call light, we call the soul. It is like the sun and its flames. We use the word ‘sun’ and they use the word ‘flames’. The flames come from the sun and, again the sun comes from the flames. The two are inseparable. I will call a flower ‘phul,’ and you will call it ‘flower.’ When I say ‘phul’ I will get one kind of feeling; and when you say ‘flower’, you will get another kind of feeling. But the flower remains the same. It is the same thing with God.
So enlightenment can mean many things and take many forms. We definitely need it. Without enlightenment we aren’t fulfilling our potential or possibilities and we won’t have true satisfaction Sri Chinmoy poetically explains.
“What is the mark
Of real enlightenment?
The mark of real enlightenment
Is ceaseless and sleepless