If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

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Simon T., modified 9 Years ago.

If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 381 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
While it seems that language is precise enough to have enlightened beings discuss their experiences and somewhat mutually understand each others (the maps being a proof of that), language shows its limits when enlightened beings try to communicate to common mortals like me.

When we come do diagnosis, it seems that emphasis is put on the actual momentary experience of insight or afterglow sensations (vibrations, visual distortions, etc.). Cognitive effects are left out of the pictures, for being unreliable, for what I understand.

A more classical question is "Are we or could someone be born enlightened?", generally answered by "yes" (which make sense for the "already there" school). Fingers are pointed at the conditioning we undergo while being raised, almost suggesting that things would be better if we were all feral children. Comparing the experiences of a Lama that as been raised from birth to be an enlightened being to a later-comer could shed some light on this.

I started to see the experience of enlightenment as a meeting with a lost relative that promise you to be by your side whenever you need him. Whenever you feel lonely or down you can call him and he will cheer you up. He keep reminding you to not worry about the future, that everything is fine the way things are. He will come to visit you on your death bed dress as a clown and exclaims "Dying is not a reason to not enjoy yourself!".

Enlightenment put things into perspective. But what happen if we can't remember that perspective? Is happiness such a subjective state of mind that it can only be talk about in relative terms (I'm happier than I use to be)?

I will add that the way the matter of the ego of enlightened beings is talked about in various Buddhist circles only add fog to the discussion.
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Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Where do we start..... emoticon

Let's get a few things straight here and talk in down-to-earth terms; I'm an "enlightened being", as are several other people on this site, and I don't think that the distinction you're making is going to be helpful to you. Regardless of someone's level of attainment, we all have different semantic maps and describe the same phenomenological territory in different ways, this is a problem encountered in most situations by the majority of people. This problem, in the context of discussing enlightenment, is exacerbated because the territory is not commonly discussed and involves describing subtle fluctuations in ones own mind/body organism, something not a lot of people will generally have experience of doing.

So, let me try to address your concerns. If anything I say does not make sense to you, please question me further so that I can try to explain it in a more understandable way as I think that your misunderstandings are purely down to not having read about this stuff in a way that you can clearly understand.

When we come do diagnosis, it seems that emphasis is put on the actual momentary experience of insight or afterglow sensations (vibrations, visual distortions, etc.). Cognitive effects are left out of the pictures, for being unreliable, for what I understand.

That's not true. When it comes to diagnosis, what helps is if the person can describe in phenomenological terms, meaning a description of their subjective experience as it happens and not their thoughts about the experience, what happens when they meditation. For example, I might say "Sat down, followed the breath, it broke down into a quick pulse in my chest, noticed warmth spreading across my solar plexus, my breath became slow and stopped for a moment before coming back up accompanied by a heaviness in my chest and mental images of dead bodies...". Cognitive processed are noted too, it's not that they're unreliable, it's just that they're no more or less important than any other sensation you'll note during a sit.

A more classical question is "Are we or could someone be born enlightened?", generally answered by "yes" (which make sense for the "already there" school).

The "ruthless non-dualist", to use Kenneth Folks phrase, would argue that everyone's already enlightened. Personally, I think it's possible for someone to have the realizations attained through insight practice by all manner of other methods, it just so happens that insight practice is incredibly efficient and effective, but I am adamant that, for the vast majority of people, some sort of meditative practice, or other mental exercise, is required.

Fingers are pointed at the conditioning we undergo while being raised, almost suggesting that things would be better if we were all feral children.

It's just plain silly to suggest that "things would be better if we were all feral children", but I know what you're trying to say. Have you ever heard of Robert Anton Wilson? He appropriated and advanced Timothy Leary's "8 Circuits of Consciousness" model and I found that this was useful when it came to understanding what sort of conditioning we're talking about here. If you google "8 circuits of consciousness model" you'll see what I mean, but bear in mind that's just another map, albeit a rather interesting one which seems to line up quite well with the models discussed on here.

Comparing the experiences of a Lama that as been raised from birth to be an enlightened being to a later-comer could shed some light on this.

As above. However, this example would involve that individual having their entire conditioning process directed towards this end.

I started to see the experience of enlightenment as a meeting with a lost relative that promise you to be by your side whenever you need him. Whenever you feel lonely or down you can call him and he will cheer you up. He keep reminding you to not worry about the future, that everything is fine the way things are. He will come to visit you on your death bed dress as a clown and exclaims "Dying is not a reason to not enjoy yourself!".

Enlightenment is a change in your relationship with the world, it's nothing to do with what you're describing, which sounds more like what a magician would call "Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel", an attainment which must be released before enlightenment can happen. Once you get enlightened, you see for yourself why "dying is not a reason to not enjoy yourself". If you can experience the truth that there never was such a thing as a self which then unties the perceptual knot, not just intellectually understand it, you're enlightened.

Enlightenment put things into perspective. But what happen if we can't remember that perspective? Is happiness such a subjective state of mind that it can only be talk about in relative terms (I'm happier than I use to be)?

The perceptual change that happens on attaining enlightenment is a permanent one, it does not require any effort to maintain. The happiness which comes with that is far better than what went before and does not require any conditions to support it, but negative emotions and real-life problems can still arise and require the same skillful handling as they did before.

What everything you're saying comes down to is experience, the maps and models make much more sense when you're repeatedly experience the territory for yourself. Go get enlightened, it's worth the effort and will answer all of these questions you have.
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Simon T., modified 9 Years ago.

RE: If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 381 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
Tommy M:
Go get enlightened, it's worth the effort and will answer all of these questions you have.


Thanks for your detailed answer. When I was talking about "Cognitive effects" I had in mind cognition when not being in a meditative state. The question being "how much the memory of the experience of 1-4th path play into the positive effect?" or is there some neurological change that make the memory of the event irrelevant. An monk that was supposedly enlightened once told me "I get unhappy sometimes but I know how to get myself happy again since I remember my experience".

To know if it's worth the effort I would need to know how much effort would be required by me to reach it. If I spend my whole life dedicated to this goal only to reach it 2 minutes before getting killed by a mad cow, does it really out weight the sacrifices? That's assuming that I have the mental faculties to achieve it.

The pragmatism Buddhism movement re-establish an intellectual approach to the matter but the emphasis is still pretty much on the practice. I think we shouldn't leave out the philosophical concepts, especially since many of us have been fed with dualist philosophy for a long time. I intellectually absorbed the teachings and despite the fact that my practice on-the-cushion is very poor, my life improved in a measurable way.

Sorry if my description of enlightenment sounded like what's it not. I definitely didn't have in mind something like a separate spirit. I worded it that way to highlight the comforting nature that a memory of something can have.
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Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
The question being "how much the memory of the experience of 1-4th path play into the positive effect?" or is there some neurological change that make the memory of the event irrelevant

Right, I get what you mean now. There is undoubtedly a neurological change when a path is attained, this is evident in the way that you experience the world after that point and it seems that research being done at present[1] is confirming this to be the case. However, the experience itself i.e. cessation/fruition happens in, literally, a split second. It is a discontinuity in the entire sensate experience, it's like hitting the reset button on an old Super Nintendo (that's the mental image I find most apt at least), everything drops out and comes back in again so there is no memory "of" the experience. You can recall the moment before and, once you've practiced at least, the immediate moment of coming back 'online' afterwards but the cessation itself creates no memory. The first time I got a fruition all I knew was that something had just happened and now the world felt, and continued to feel, like a very different place, bearing in mind that I'd had my fair share of weird and wonderful meditative experiences in the past but nothing caused such a profound and permanent shift as this.

An monk that was supposedly enlightened once told me "I get unhappy sometimes but I know how to get myself happy again since I remember my experience".

Sounds pretty reasonable to me, but his "experience" might have been the insight which led to him getting enlightened, or the after effects of a Path, or maybe just the certainty and underlying contentment that getting enlightened provides. Either way, it's cool to hear the guy acknowledge his potential to be unhappy and shows that there's still potential for development after this point.

To know if it's worth the effort I would need to know how much effort would be required by me to reach it.

This isn't a helpful perspective to take, how much effort it takes is dependent on how much you want to attain the goal. The same applies to any other scenario, it comes down to intent and the willingness to do what it takes to get where you want to be, but always with regards to morality and not harming anyone else in the process.

In my experience, from 1st to 4th path (or at least what I believe to be 4th path based on the descriptions of others who have attained it) took approximately one year, but I had also spent over ten years prior to this working with other practices and methods all working towards awakening. I sat formally, on the cushion, every day for anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours, but also carried practice into daily life by noting from the moment I woke up in the morning and keeping this up ferociously throughout the day. I would probably say that, realistically, I was practicing for between 8 and 10 hours a day not including cushion time, but this was something I needed to do as I couldn't have continued living the way I did before.

If I spend my whole life dedicated to this goal only to reach it 2 minutes before getting killed by a mad cow, does it really out weight the sacrifices?

What would it matter anyway? You'd be dead. What's the point in standing out in the middle of the road waiting for a bus to hit you when you could learn how to get back to the relative safety of the pavement?

The pragmatism Buddhism movement re-establish an intellectual approach to the matter but the emphasis is still pretty much on the practice. I think we shouldn't leave out the philosophical concepts, especially since many of us have been fed with dualist philosophy for a long time. I intellectually absorbed the teachings and despite the fact that my practice on-the-cushion is very poor, my life improved in a measurable way.

There's only so far philosophy can take you, you can juggle it in your mind all you like but until you can observe and identify what all of these concepts and theories point towards then it's of little use. Sure, an intellectual understanding can be beneficial as it provides an opportunity for more clarity, but when there is no practical, real-life insight into things as they are then these benefits can wane considerably in the face of adversity. The emphasis on the practical side of things here is down to most of us having exhausted other thought-based approaches to the thing and found them to be unhelpful, thinking about this doesn't get the job done. I know what you're saying though, but bear in mind that enlightenment is not a philosophical understanding either, philosophy can be useful when it comes to describing experience but it's just more concepts, labels and signs pointing to something that can only really be experienced for oneself.

If another approach works for you, go for it, but enlightenment comes through observing the Three Characteristics, not through thinking about it or reading a book. I wasted a long time thinking that I could do it that way so I'm speaking from experience.
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Simon T., modified 9 Years ago.

RE: If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 381 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
Thanks again for that post. Well, I'm on the ride, as Kenneth Folk would says, and I would be until I die or I get enlightened, anyway. I'm pretty much in the situation you described. That is, I need to "practice" during my daily activities just to say sane. I always remind myself "Rest your mind in awareness" (Jack Kornfield). Most thoughts we have during the day are pretty much useless or harmful anyway. A Chinese monk in Burma told me "The goal of Buddhism is to destroy the mind". The true meaning has probably been lost in translation but it's close enough.
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Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
A Chinese monk in Burma told me "The goal of Buddhism is to destroy the mind". The true meaning has probably been lost in translation but it's close enough.

I suppose it could be described in that way, but it sounds rather nihilistic and implies that there is something to be destroyed when, in actuality, there was never anything there in the first place. The idea of a self is caused by a misreading of phenomena, noting in particular allows you to objectify the sensations and see that none of them are any different than any other; they're all impermanent, empty and unsatisfying. The whole thing is a mechanical, non-mystical process and to get all spiritual and metaphysical about it is not helpful, it's a case of setting them up to knock them down and nothing more.

You can do this, check my threads on KFD and on here to see how I went about incorporating practice into daily life. It's more than possible, it's just a case of doing it and seeing things clearly as they arise and pass away so everything is fair game for noting practice. If you're on the ride then it's in your best interests to get stream entry, everything changes after that point and you'll see why I keep raving on about this and why it's worth the effort.

Good luck with whatever you choose to do, and thanks for the chat!
End in Sight, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Simon T.:
A more classical question is "Are we or could someone be born enlightened?", generally answered by "yes" (which make sense for the "already there" school).


I met someone who appeared to have been enlightened (by the normal path criteria) without ever having been interested in spirituality or meditation.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Simon T.:
A Chinese monk in Burma told me "The goal of Buddhism is to destroy the mind". The true meaning has probably been lost in translation but it's close enough.


It's brilliant in its pithiness. emoticon
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Simon T., modified 9 Years ago.

RE: If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 381 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
End in Sight:
Simon T.:
A more classical question is "Are we or could someone be born enlightened?", generally answered by "yes" (which make sense for the "already there" school).


I met someone who appeared to have been enlightened (by the normal path criteria) without ever having been interested in spirituality or meditation.


I know of a Japanese man who experienced what appear to be enlightenment after over-dosing on drug and almost dying. What's interesting is that he knows nothing about Buddhism or enlightenment and the experience he describes and the transformation resulting from it perfectly match the description of enlightenment. The most important proof of that is his insight of what we generally call "dependent arising" and the the absence of free will. Out of it he developed a great sense of compassion. I will try to convince him to share his experience on this forum.
End in Sight:
I met someone who appeared to have been enlightened (by the normal path criteria) without ever having been interested in spirituality or meditation.

I was pleasantly surprised.


Any drug use?
End in Sight, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: If the experience of enlightenment is forgotten, is the effect lost?

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
As far as they explained it to me, no; it was merely how they always recalled experiencing life.

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