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Does enlightenment make you a better person?

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As in the title.

I will add that I find this issue very confusing. Is there any relation between enlightenment and behavior at all?

Could you be an enlightened jerk?

Edit: cleared up typo

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
2/12/11 10:49 PM as a reply to Robert M E.
It depends upon whose idea of enlightenment (or awakening) one is talking about. And then, too, whose instruction of training one follows.

If one is following anything other than the Buddhadhamma, all bets are off. Anything can happen.

If one is following the Buddhadhamma and training according to the prescribed training procedure, the whole point of the training is to end suffering in this lifetime. Does it make any sense that one who has ended greed, hatred, and ignorance would do something that had the potential to cause himself (or others for that matter) harm or suffering? Not very likely.

In order to end suffering, one must develop the Path. What is the Path?

1. Right View
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness and
8. Right Concentration.

Qualities three through five make up the discipline of sila or virtue/morality in the three pronged training of virtue, concentration (samadhi), and wisdom (panna). Qualities six through eight make up the discipline of concentration. And qualities one and two make up the discipline of wisdom. Were you not aware of this before?

The practice of the first of these three qualities (sila) assists in the development of the latter two qualities (samadhi and panna). A virtuous mind is a mind free of guilt. A mind free of guilt is relatively calm, unagitated, and stable. A calm and stable mind is free to develop concentration upon its object, and thus to see the truth of that object free from personal biases and prejudices which may have conditioned the mind's perception of that object. Seeing the truth of the object and recognizing it as such is the development of wisdom, the last faculty of the trio of faculties. Developing wisdom dispels ignorance.

The only way to find out for sure is to follow the path oneself.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
2/13/11 4:51 AM as a reply to Robert M E.
I just "finished" reading daniels book and by that I mean I skimmed through the book reading what I found interesting and needed for basic practice. I also read his views on my question.

Which is (I hope I get this right) that, no, enlightenment doesn't really make you a better person in any conventional way.

Part of me is relieved by this, because it does make the whole issue of enlightenment a lot less messy and more achievable. On the other hand it is a bit disappointing that enlightened people can still be jerks.

Yet, the end of suffering is of course a totally awesome and worthy goal.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
2/13/11 10:25 AM as a reply to Robert M E.
Robert Marinus van Es:
I just "finished" reading daniels book and by that I mean I skimmed through the book reading what I found interesting and needed for basic practice. I also read his views on my question.

Which is (I hope I get this right) that, no, enlightenment doesn't really make you a better person in any conventional way.

First, it is important to recognize that Daniel's opinion is just his opinion, and that it applies to his definition of enlightenment, according to the training that he underwent in pursuit of the ending of his own personal suffering.

Gotama talked (discoursed) about a gradual training whose stated goal was to root out the causes of suffering (dukkha, or dissatisfaction in its widest definition) through the shedding of light on the processes that kept it in place. Thence, a gradual shedding (letting go) of the mental habits and conditioning that keep mental defilements active and in place.

While enlightenment (awakening) isn't a panacea for all the personal defilements in any given personality, it remains the responsibility of that personality to rid himself of his own "demons" so to speak. If one follows and practices what Gotama taught in the discourses, that will eventually occur.

Yet, even with all that said, I'm sure that even Daniel would agree that the person he was before his "enlightenment" is not the same person who emerged from that enlightenment. In that sense, then, yes, in many ways he might agree that he was a better person after than prior to awakening. Yet, it should be recognized that the responsibility for purifying the mind still rests on the individual. If one is following the instructions left us by Gotama, then that process can take place in a natural and orderly fashion. Mindfulness and clear comprehension are what is needed to complete the process of mental purification. When one can see and identify an unwholesome defilement, one can then abandon it for a more wholesome habit. All of this has to do with Right View and Right Intention (or Thought).

It is interesting to note that Gotama described arahants as being noble personages. Noble in the sense that they could recognize and acknowledge what is universally true for all humanity and hence conduct their lives accordingly, with dignity and compassion for, not only themselves, but for their fellow travelers.

Robert Marinus van Es:

Part of me is relieved by this, because it does make the whole issue of enlightenment a lot less messy and more achievable. On the other hand it is a bit disappointing that enlightened people can still be jerks.

And that was one of the main purposes of Daniel's book, was to make that known more widely than it had been known before, to encourage people to buckle down and get it done in terms of their commitment to practice. His book was a condemnation of those in the established circles of "Buddhism" (the traditional, dogmatic factions of the Theravada, the Mahayana and all the rest) who were essentially saying that enlightenment in the present era was basically unachievable and that the best one could do was to strive for stream entry.

Yet, the truth is, the original teachings are still there in the suttas, and anyone who is of a mind to can still follow them and achieve the same result as Gotama and his closest followers.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
2/13/11 11:01 AM as a reply to Ian And.
I remember reading an account of how a Native American dude, upon dealing with a very mean-spirited European, had referred to the man as being "like a broken serpent."
The point was that the man's suffering, just like the snake's broken spine, was the source of his unusual aggression.
If enlightenment really does help you reduce or even eliminate your own suffering, that would certainly help in making you a less aggressive person. I do think that certain personality types are hard-wired, and that there are also lines of development, in Wilberian terms, that are independent of the degree to which a person is enlightened. I'm sure there have been plenty of enlightened nerds with terrible social skills.
Anyway, let's hope! :-D

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
2/22/11 11:52 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian's points about the opinions being presented in my book having been my opinions from my point of view are valid. I appreciate Ian's high and traditional ideals and see the beauty in them. They are compelling in some heartfelt way for me as well.

I was very, very much changed by having gone through the process of all the stuff I did and perceived, it is just hard to describe exactly as fitting the standard fetter model as it unfolded, and then there is the question of how internal experience and external manifestation correlate with various ideals and each other: this is more complex in practice than the standard models tend to describe, IMHO.

Jerk is often in the eye of the beholder. For instance, the Buddha would often debate people who held views different from his own and he was not always successful in convincing them his, usually very strongly presented, point of view was the correct one, and I suspect from some of the exchanges that they often believed he was something mix of rude and a jerk when I read those suttas.

Ideals of better are also very subjective. I personally know that many traditional Buddhists have accused me of being all sorts of bad things that they wouldn't have if I hadn't claimed to have attained what I have, such as a delusional whack-job, a narcissistic asshole, a vile and nearly criminal corrupter of the dharma, etc. Thus, did my attainments, whatever you think they are, make me a better person in their eyes? Hardly. Had I no attainments, I would likely incur none of their insults and poor opinions? No. However, having done whatever I did and having simply explained this as best I could, they consider me clearly to be worse off in their opinion than had I done nothing at all. It is a strange world in some ways and very predictable in others.

As the dharma helped me have less fear, I am more likely to be disinhibited in speaking what I believe to be truth. That is not always popular, as opinions on what is true vary widely.

Thus, the question is not so straightforward as it seems.

What would be your standard for "bettter", your core, verifiable, can hang your hat on it standard?

Daniel

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
2/25/11 7:54 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
Jerk is often in the eye of the beholder. For instance, the Buddha would often debate people who held views different from his own and he was not always successful in convincing them his, usually very strongly presented, point of view was the correct one, and I suspect from some of the exchanges that they often believed he was something mix of rude and a jerk when I read those suttas.

Can you link/name some of those? Sounds like might be fun reading =P.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
4/14/11 4:35 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
What would be your standard for "bettter"


I would say "kinder". By which measure, while rationally a deeper understanding of interconnection and suffering would compel practitioners towards greater kindness, I've seen little evidence of this. Instead I've noticed plenty of kindness among people who don't meditate. Having said that, there is definitely greater kindness in myself as a direct result of practice, to the extent that it's changed my life. Maybe the signs are too subtle to notice in most people who aren't one's self.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
4/14/11 10:37 AM as a reply to F H.
Being a not-yet stream enterer so you know where I come from, I will add that an intelligently done practice like noting or mindfulness of the body/mind can change you even if you never get to SE or beyond. I've only been sitting everyday for 5 years now but If I die tomorrow it will have not been a waste. Not at all. I am more open, have less anxiety, and am better able to love my friends and family now. YMMV of course, but I consider the journey to be just as worthwhile as the goal ;p

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
4/14/11 12:18 PM as a reply to F H.
Mia Hansson:
I would say "kinder". By which measure, while rationally a deeper understanding of interconnection and suffering would compel practitioners towards greater kindness, I've seen little evidence of this.

the path a la MCTB really doesn't focus much on kindness - or i should say the path i followed, since i can only speak for myself and my own impression. my mindset was more of plowing through whatever i had to to get to where i had to go (not the best approach since i didn't know where i was going or what i was plowing through) and doing it that way leads to many negative side-effects and negative emotional states (i.e. Dark Night) which can manifest as unkindness towards others... and a Self still remains even at 4th path so along the way and at the end of this path there's plenty of room to form hard-headed opinions about who/what one is and which things are best to do, which can lead to a lot of unkindness when accomplished (or non-accomplished) practitioners with differing opinions clash.

also the way the path is laid out the focus seems to be more on oneself and furthering one's practice instead of being kind to oneself or to others. probably the only applicable thing to kindness in MCTB is to not rage against others when in the Dark Night.. so it's more not expressing murderous tendencies towards others when they arise as a side-effect of the practice, instead of actively being kind. again i'm speaking only for myself here.

Mia Hansson:
Instead I've noticed plenty of kindness among people who don't meditate.
people who don't meditate often act in pretty wise ways and say pretty insightful things! it's like they have valuable opinions, too =O. (i'm saying this more to myself as i have the tendency to be like "oh i couldn't ask any normal person for advice, they wouldn't understand what i'm going through!" but i notice an inability to explain why i'm suffering is a huge red flag that the suffering is just a pointless self-knotting self-contraction where the way out is to simply STOP).

Mia Hansson:
Having said that, there is definitely greater kindness in myself as a direct result of practice, to the extent that it's changed my life. Maybe the signs are too subtle to notice in most people who aren't one's self.
for me, up until recently, any extra kindness has been more of a side-effect.. and ive definitely been unkind to myself a lot this whole way.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
4/14/11 4:58 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
When reading MTCB, keep in mind that Daniel says that morality is the first and last training, and that whilst you can reach the end of developing wisdom, there's no limit to your ability to cultivating morality. I didn't entirely catch it on the first reading, but basically he says that morality is very important but outside the scope of the book. Perhaps if a new edition comes out, he could hammer on that point a bit more....

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
7/15/11 2:07 PM as a reply to Robert M E.
I been listening to Shinzen Young, and he agrees with what I have found - enlightened people can be jerks.

In his Science of Enlightenment tapes he says that he still gets angry, and that his master got angry too, but in an enlightened non suffering way.

Yet others will say that enlightenment will prevent anger - remember Yoda's parody advice "anger leads to suffering".

It seems like a really confused issue generally.

So we have two types of anger described - enlightened and non enlightened.

I would expect practiced meditators to experience less anger as they develop more control over their stress response, but as anger is initiated by stress hormones, and by fight or flight responses, then Young is saying that these factors still operate after enlightenment.

This is also confusing because a fight or flight response is closely linked to fear of death and loss of the body, and the drive to survive and reproduce, yet enlightenment is supposed to dispense with those too.

Isn't it?

If someone is a jerk due to their particular neuronal profile, it would be a big expectation that enlightenment could completely overcome that. What if someone is a jerk because they have a small tumour or lesion on the brain - what if they get that AFTER they are enlightened? Is that impossible?

Finally, if it is possible to be enlightened and a jerk, to still get angry, then a lot of people are very mislead in thinking that enlightenment can bring world peace.
This is something I notice that Mr Young goes along with. On Youtube, he makes a frequently said claim that a lot of enlightened people would make a better world of peace, yet he also says that enlightenment does not end anger.

So what sort of world would that be? Exactly the same but enlightened in it's madness?

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
7/15/11 3:42 PM as a reply to Robert M E.
This is my first post to the site.

Briefly, I have been on a DIY path since my first "experience" in 2004.

This experience and any subsequent experiences (either shifts and Raptures, which I endearing refer to as SO's (spiritual orgasms) along with corresponding insights both interior and exterior, including dark night seems to have increased my capacity for "goodness." My take on this is that I felt a connection to everything, all became sacred, all became beautiful. As these realizations became more and more subtle and the depth and breath of "goodness" has expanded.

My Master's Thesis was centered upon the evolution of consciousness and included the above: enlightenment, insights to Truth and Beauty, visions of Amibata Sukhavati = end of suffering for all beings and the cosmos, etc.

This is, of course, my own experience.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
7/15/11 4:02 PM as a reply to John Ex Ex.
enlightenment seems to magnify whatever tendency you want... you can be supremely compassionate or supremely ruthless and angry (referring to Ciaran) or just normal... it's like an unfettering of the emotional faculty. i've certainly experienced more intense pain and pleasure while 'enlightened' than while 'normal'.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
7/15/11 5:12 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Claudia:

Yes, I think that intention plays a role, and also pain is much more intense as well: increased perceptual capacity all around. I have used the pain (once I figured out insight practice) to dissolve or purify both the interior and exterior. There seems to corresponding subtle depth to this as well.

Very powerful to have insight into the nature of reality (powers, etc). I suppose one could go to the "dark side," or perhaps be drawn into the collective negative morphic field when experiencing the Dark Night or choosing darkness. I am very idealistic, and perhaps naive, but I can't imagine why someone would choose darkness.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
enligtenment
Answer
8/9/11 12:25 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
i like it, i have also had the same sort of hate mail from the hardline buddhists when speaking of my enlightenment, i think you would definitely enjoy my book which is my story, available at the moment as an e book, at www.buddhabrats.com. It is just nice to see that i am not alone and that the response of cutting down the tall poppies is not a singular one

Sarva Mangalam

Adamas

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
8/10/11 5:34 PM as a reply to bill of the wandering mind.
The question, "Does enlightenment make you a better person?" is a valuable one--though maybe it the question itself needs to be considered, as Daniel and Ian have both pointed out.

To begin with, "enlightened jerk" is definitely not an oxymoron. An ancient Zen koan touches on this subject when it asks: "A clearly enlightened person falls into a well. How is this so?"

I'm very fond of Suzuki Roshi's take on enlightenment: "Strictly speaking there are no enlightened individuals, only enlightened activities." And then another quote from a meditation teacher I knew who said, "You won't get enlightened. Enlightment is more like a view, a place from which you have a certain perspective."

Post SE, this is my take: based on what I've read and heard and on my own experience of practice, "enlightenment" (assuming we even agree on what that means) doesn't seem to change the personality as far as its habits/psychological tropes, just the view available to that personality. Neurosis just keeps chug-chug-chugging along. On the other hand, sincere practice of daily-life sati/mindfulness is powerful stuff in this regard, particularly when combined with thoughtful attention to sila. I think sila needs to be developed with an eye towards integrity (that is, really walking your talk). It took me awhile to get this one, but good sila recognizes in a very deep way that we are conditioned beings and that our mindstates are the results of causes and conditions--some of which we have control over. Properly developed, well considered sila is really beautiful and can be a source of great peace in one's life--and feeling peaceful is pretty great.

Some time ago, when I became adept at stilling/concentrating my mind, I spoke with a teacher (who I consider to be very highly realized). He told me I that I was at a fork in the road, that I could develop the path of concentration, or the path of mindfulness. I asked which he recommended, and he replied, "Mindfulness. It's more useful to you in daily-life." So mindfulness is a two-fold training. Properly applied on the cushion and off it will lead you all the way to enlightenment. If you are sincere and honest with yourself (which is rough going sometimes), it will also give you the tools to notice when "you're being a jerk", (or whatever unskillful territory you're in) and as time goes by, you'll find that you actually have a choice in the matter (if that's a goal for you). Attending mindfully to the feeling tone (vedena), view, mindstate, sensations, etc. of "being a jerk", instead of judging them and getting defensive about how rightful or wrongful you are, is both good practice and a good opportunity to smooth your rough edges--both internally as you experience them and externally as others do.

I think bill of the wandering mind is really right on:

bill of the wandering mind:
Being a not-yet stream enterer so you know where I come from, I will add that an intelligently done practice like noting or mindfulness of the body/mind can change you even if you never get to SE or beyond. I've only been sitting everyday for 5 years now but If I die tomorrow it will have not been a waste. Not at all. I am more open, have less anxiety, and am better able to love my friends and family now. YMMV of course, but I consider the journey to be just as worthwhile as the goal ;p


In Zen, there is a compound word for practice-realization. Realization is inseparable from practice. Practice doesn't end with realization, but is on-going. Being kind, available and present for the people in my life is important to me, and that's part of my path of practice. Resistance to those qualities provides opportunities to be mindful and to investigate all sorts of things that inflate the "self": conceit, separation, anger, duality, views. Rough territory with all sorts of unpleasant sensations. It's not for the faint of heart.

Regards,
Bruno

Edited to add: Jack Kornfield's "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry" considers these issues in depth. It is based on interviews Kornfield conducted with very experienced practitioners from diverse traditions. It looks squarely at some of the troubling aspects of this, ie: really messed-up behavior by highly realized teachers. It also clearly reflects Jack Kornfield's "path with heart" type of outlook--whether that works for you or not, it's a valuable resource.

RE: Does enlightenment make you a better person?
Answer
8/10/11 10:25 PM as a reply to boeuf f.
An ancient Zen koan touches on this subject when it asks: "A clearly enlightened person falls into a well. How is this so?"

this is hilarious! the days before angry emails...


Suzuki Roshi's take on enlightenment: "Strictly speaking there are no enlightened individuals, only enlightened activities."
an all-in-one compass and gauge