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Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening

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I fully realize the argument that many things involving enlightenment / awakening cannot be described on a physical or intellectual level.

Nevertheless, I'm curious: Can someone describe the difference between enlightenment / non-enlightenment to the best of his/her ability? What exactly is experienced? There has to be some difference or something that is experienced, and I assume that a partial description is possible. I haven't really seen any attempt at a description in the few Buddhist texts I have read.

Thanks in advance for understanding my question

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/15/18 6:43 AM as a reply to Michael.
Oh, they can be described with the help of analogies, but I suspect it's not done because it doesn't really offer a lot of benefit.  Here's one analogy, and it's one among an infinite possibilities, riddled with as much error as it is with an attempt to describe one angle:

You're out at the park and watch your 5 year old nephew as he buys an ice cream with the money you gave him.  He buys it, looks at it with glee, and takes a hungry bite.  Suddenly some kids that are playing tag come rushing past where he is standing, and they bump him on accident, causing your nephew to drop his ice cream.  He looks down at the mess, and he begins to cry, his joy destroyed and irreperably lying at his feet.  And your heart goes out to him, because you understand what he is going through.

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/15/18 7:47 AM as a reply to Michael.
Hi Michael,

Have you read this site owner's book (MCTB2)?  You can find it online at mctb.org.  Specifically, you can see his description of the stages of awakening at https://www.mctb.org/mctb2/table-of-contents/part-v-awakening/37-models-of-the-stages-of-awakening/a-revised-four-path-model/

I can tell you what the first level of awakening felt like for me.

When you think of "Michael," you probably imagine that there is some core "thing" that has remained constant over your life.  You've learned and grown, but there's some core identity that is fixed.  With the first level of awakening, it becomes obvious that the "Michael" thing is not a stable, separate thing in the way you once thought of it.

The physical feeling of relief that occurred for me was like I had been walking around with a tightly clenched fist all my life and had assumed that the lactic acid burn was just the way things had to be.  Then I suddenly realized I could just relax that fist, and experienced incredible relief after doing so.  In the same way, maintaining the illusion that "Dave" is a permanent, separate self caused painful stress.

Everything else seems impermanent too.  For me, things constantly flicker now.  I have profound visual snow and tinnitus.  I don't know that there's any benefit to this per se, but it just happened as part of the stream entry package.  I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder prior to all of this, and my cycles have seriously sped up since stream entry as well.  Although I have experienced a great degree of equanimity with them when they happen so far, and in general seem to be mostly hanging out in equanimity as my baseline these days.

The peace is fantastic and I would recommend it if it appeals to you.

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/15/18 11:30 AM as a reply to Michael.
Michael:
Can someone describe the difference between enlightenment / non-enlightenment to the best of his/her ability? What exactly is experienced? There has to be some difference or something that is experienced, and I assume that a partial description is possible.


It’s not an experience. It’s a change in the way experience is interpreted. To the best of my ability, I provided a psychological explanation in chapter 14 of my little book: https://archive.org/details/slackers-guide-to-stream-entry

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/15/18 2:30 PM as a reply to dave m.
  "dave m" = For me, things constantly flicker now.  I have profound visual snow and tinnitus.  I don't know that there's any benefit to this per se, but it just happened as part of the stream entry package.


Intriguing to read this, as this is my experience too. It doesn't actually bother me in the slightest - I consider it a little friendly reminder of nature of reality.

For me, it was a sudden realization that "I" was a centerless everything, and that all of the "things" around me were empty of separateness as well. I was seeing from every possible point, and knowing that every possible point holographically contained every other point. It was a great relief, like sitting in front of a fire after a long day. I was in my car going to get tires, and that just kept happening with no-one driving, and no-where to go. The whole experience lasted for about 20 minutes until just before arriving at the tire store. 

That seeing collapsed back to the normal state, but with the unshakeable knowledge about how things were now indelible. The experiencing of those initially experienced characteristics have continued to ramp up and deepen over the last few years and are now nearly continuous... so close to stable. 

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/16/18 1:58 PM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Not intending to hijack this thread, but....

Stirling and Dave- glad to hear your perspectives on this. This topic- how things are fuzzy/grainy/snowy- not always but frequently, how things “move” and “sparkle” after a “long-ish” sit (40 mins or more), how things sometimes spontaneously look “wiggly” — was on my list to discuss with dear teacher this week.  It’s like an LSD trip without the LSD, nor, thankfully, does it last as long!

I too, take it as a reminder, like you said, Stirling.  It is helpful to view it like that, but there are times I could do without it, too.  i.e. When I’m at work trying to start someone’s IV.  It doesn’t last long (at least not at this point), so that’s the upside for when it appears at an inconvenient time.   

So, I guess what you two are telling me is that this side effect is here to stay, at least for awhile? Does it go away after further attainment or does it get worse?  Yikes!


Guess I can take this topic off the list for practice discussion this week- or not.   

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/16/18 9:46 PM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Stirling Campbell:


For me, it was a sudden realization that "I" was a centerless everything, and that all of the "things" around me were empty of separateness as well. I was seeing from every possible point, and knowing that every possible point holographically contained every other point.

That sounds awesome.  I still don't have any direct understanding of the "All is One" thing, though I'd like to.  For me, it felt like I was literally dying and had drawn my last breath and somehow had to surrender to that.  I'll never understand where the equanimity to deal with that came from.  It really felt like grace.  Not being afraid of death anymore is a cool bonus, though.

To Alice S., I'd just second what Stirling said.  The visual snow/tinnitus isn't annoying at all for me and doesn't obscure any sights/sounds.  I can actually stare at a wall and watch the flickering for long periods without getting bored, though I try not to do this around people since they can be disturbed by it.  I can only imagine that this gets "worse" with higher degrees of realization, and would be really curious to know what things actually look like to an arhat.

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/17/18 6:53 AM as a reply to Michael.
I would say "sensory clarity and basic sanity".

By sensory clarity I mean the clear perception and understanding the nature of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts.

By basic sanity I mean the clear understanding of non-personal nature of psychological-physiological reactivity; an understanding of how habits are changed with intention, action, and time; a deep ability to use mature defense mechanisms especially good-natured and inspirational humor; and an appreciation of the beyond-causes aspect of creativity.

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/17/18 7:15 AM as a reply to Michael.
My list:

- have solved and can see in real time the process of perception working from sensory input to ideation (dependent origination)
- objective view (brutal honesty) of one's own mental and behavioral bullsh*t accompanied by a willingness to work through it
- ability to view both dual and non-dual experience yet realize that experience is both, at all times (hold contradictory concepts in the mind)
- ability to maintain sanity in the face of the chaos in one's experience
- through all the above, have a compassionate attitude and relationship with the world, others, and self

Nothing changes, and yet everything changes.

EDIT: there is no woo-woo, magic or eternal bliss-out

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/17/18 1:29 PM as a reply to Michael.
My perspective as someone with one foot in and one foot out, may help to extrapolate what it means to go from here to there.

The whole thing seems like a great many cycles of:

0. willingness to seek aspects of experience previously hidden by the normal conscious mind
1. practicing to engage more calmly & deeply with experience
2. ability to experience some experiences with a little more relaxation and a little less preconception
3. spontaneous newfound clarity into some facet of experience
4. a) newfound clarity occasionally produces temporary profound understanding that some preconception or behaviour is obselete
4. b) newfound clarity occasionally persists in the form of a change to baseline clarity & upper-limit of clarity
5. adjusting behaviour and views in accord with newfound clarity, occasionally dropping a whole class of preconception or behaviour

This clarity is something available to most people, and recognizable by most people in rare experiences like flow states when wholly absorbed in some activity. What the process amounts to is a feedback loop of un-learning normal behaviours which entail hiding the depth of experience from conscious awareness, and establishing behaviours which progressively stabilise conscious awareness of the full depth of experience.

RE: Intellectual description of enlightenment / awakening
Answer
8/21/18 4:15 AM as a reply to Michael.
Earlier this year I had a series of experiences that may be construed as stream entry. I feel the figurative "a year and a day" has been served and things have stabilised. I realise putting this out here is tantamount to making a claim of something or other. This is something I have no interest to defend, so please take it as you wish.

"describe the difference... what exactly was experienced?"

During a silent retreat I experienced something that can only be described as cessation of the normal flow of experiences. I sensed it as a visual and somatic 'blip', unlike anything else I'd experienced, followed by a sense of being immersed and carried by a current of something I can't describe.

I had no expectation that it would happen then - in fact, letting go of the desire to have it happen was perhaps the last crucial detail in my case.

The after-effects were significant. For the next couple of days I had difficulty sleeping, had an excess of mental energy, lots of piti and (subjective experience of) elevated body temperature and heart rate.

The fireworks of A&P died down in a few weeks and remained so. I had always experienced strong A&P phenomena since more than 15 years ago, but now, nothing. The other thing I noticed was that the transition between states in meditation is less pronounced (e.g. entering access concentration, or between jhana states).

Off cushion, no permanent blissed out feeling or anything beyond the first few weeks. Just seems to be more tuned in to internal and external states as how they are, without rejection or distortion. Seems to be less attached to the identities I'd assumed to be "me". In the face of strong experiences, it feels like there is a leash that pulls me back to the present moment when I start getting sucked into mental events. Overall, I feel less affected by whatever chaos there is; I can feel it to the fullest extent but not hurt by it. 

There are still variations in that some days I feel more concentrated, some days more distracted. Some days more reactive or judgmental or less kind. So, no change in that being human.