The English term ENLIGHTENMENT is the western translation of the term
bodhi , "awakening", which was popularised in the Western world
through the 19th century translations of
Max Müller . It has the
western connotation of a sudden insight into a transcendental truth.
The term is also being used to translate several other Buddhist terms
and concepts used to denote insight (prajna , kensho and satori );
knowledge (vidhya ); the "blowing out" (
Nirvana ) of disturbing
emotions and desires and the subsequent freedom or release (vimutti );
and the attainment of
Buddhahood , as exemplified by
Gautama Buddha .
What exactly constituted the Buddha's awakening is unknown. It may
probably have involved the knowledge that liberation was attained by
the combination of mindfulness and dhyāna , applied to the
understanding of the arising and ceasing of craving. The relation
between dhyana and insight is a core problem in the study of Buddhism,
and is one of the fundamentals of Buddhist practice.
In the western world the concept of (spiritual) enlightenment has
taken on a romantic meaning. It has become synonymous with
self-realization and the true self and false self , being regarded as
a substantial essence being covered over by social conditioning. , ,
* 1 Translation
* 2 Terms
* 2.1 Insight
* 2.1.2 Prajna
Kensho and satori
* 2.2 Knowledge
* 2.3 Freedom
* 3.1 Anuttarā-samyak-saṃbodhi
* 3.2 Buddha\'s awakening
* 3.2.1 Canonical accounts
* 3.2.2 Critical assessment
* 3.3 Development of
Buddhahood in Buddhist traditions
* 4 Western understanding of enlightenment
* 4.1 Enlightenment as "Aufklärung"
* 4.2 Awakening
Romanticism and transcendentalism
* 4.4 Enlightenment and experience
* 6 See also
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 9 Web references
* 10 Sources
* 11 External links
Robert S. Cohen notes that the majority of English books on Buddhism
use the term "enlightenment" to translate the term bodhi. The root
budh, from which both bodhi and
Buddha are derived, means "to wake up"
or "to recover consciousness". Cohen notes that bodhi is not the
result of an illumination , but of a path of realization, or coming to
understanding. The term "enlightenment" is event-oriented, whereas
the term "awakening" is process-oriented. The western use of the term
"enlighten" has Christian roots, as in Calvin's "It is God alone who
enlightens our minds to perceive his truths".
Early 19th century bodhi was translated as "intelligence". The term
"enlighten" was first being used in 1835, in an English translation of
a French article, while the first recorded use of the term
'enlightenment' is credited (by the Oxford English Dictionary) to the
Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (February, 1836). In 1857 The
Times used the term "the Enlightened" for the
Buddha in a short
article, which was reprinted the following year by
Max Müller .
Thereafter, the use of the term subsided, but reappeared with the
publication of Max Müller's Chips from a german Workshop, which
included a reprint from the Times-article. The book was translated in
1969 into German, using the term "der Erleuchtete".
Max Müller was
an essentialist , who believed in a natural religion , and saw
religion as an inherent capacity of human beings. "Enlightenment" was
a means to capture natural religious truths, as distinguished from
By the mid-1870s it had become commonplace to call the Buddha
"enlightened", and by the end of the 1880s the terms "enlightened" and
"enlightenment" dominated the English literature.
Bodhi (Sanskrit, Pāli), from the verbal root budd, "to awaken", "to
understand", means literally "to have woken up and understood".
Johannes Bronkhorst , Tillman Vetter, and K.R. Norman,
bodhi was at first not specified. K.R. Norman:
It is not at all clear what gaining bodhi means. We are accustomed to
the translation "enlightenment" for bodhi, but this is misleading ...
It is not clear what the buddha was awakened to, or at what particular
point the awakening came.
According to Norman, bodhi may basically have meant the knowledge
that nibbana was attained, due to the practice of dhyana.
Originally only "prajna" may have been mentioned, and Tillman Vetter
even concludes that originally dhyana itself was deemed liberating,
with the stilling of pleasure of pain in the fourth jhana. Gombrich
also argues that the emphasis on insight is a later development.
Theravada Buddhism, bodhi refers to the realisation of the four
stages of enlightenment and becoming an
Arahant . In Theravada
Buddhism, bodhi is equal to supreme insight, and the realisation of
the four noble truths, which leads to deliverance. According to
(Through Bodhi) one awakens from the slumber or stupor (inflicted
upon the mind) by the defilements (kilesa , q.v.) and comprehends the
Four Noble Truths
Four Noble Truths (sacca , q.v.).
This equation of bodhi with the four noble truths is a later
development, in response to developments within Indian religious
thought, where "liberating insight" was deemed essential for
liberation . The four noble truths as the liberating insight of the
Buddha eventually were superseded by
Pratītyasamutpāda , the
twelvefold chain of causation, and still later by anatta, the
emptiness of the self.
Mahayana Buddhism, bodhi is equal to prajna, insight into the
Buddha-nature , sunyata and tathatā . This is equal to the
realisation of the non-duality of absolute and relative .
Buddhism pannā (Pali) means "understanding", "wisdom",
"insight". "Insight" is equivalent to vipassana ', insight into the
three marks of existence, namely anicca , dukkha and anatta . Insight
leads to the four stages of enlightenment and Nirvana.
Buddhism Prajna (Sanskrit) means "insight" or "wisdom",
and entails insight into sunyata. The attainment of this insight is
often seen as the attainment of "enlightenment".
Kensho And Satori
Satori are Japanese terms used in
Zen traditions. Kensho
means "seeing into one's true nature." Ken means "seeing", sho means
"nature", "essence", c.q Buddha-nature.
Satori (Japanese) is often
used interchangeably with kensho, but refers to the experience of
kensho. The Rinzai tradition sees kensho as essential to the
Buddhahood , but considers further practice essential to
Buddhism emphasizes insight into Buddha-nature.
This term is derived from Indian tathagata-garbha thought, "the womb
of the thus-gone" (the Buddha), the inherent potential of every
sentient being to become a Buddha. This idea was integrated with the
Yogacara-idea of the ālaya vijñāna, and further developed in
Chinese Buddhism, which integrated Indian
Buddhism with native Chinese
Buddha-nature came to mean both the potential of awakening
and the whole of reality, a dynamic interpenetration of absolute and
relative. In this awakening it is realized that observer and observed
are not distinct entities, but mutually co-dependent.
The term vidhya is being used in contrast to avidhya , ignorance or
the lack of knowledge, which binds us to samsara . The Mahasaccaka
Sutta describes the three knowledges which the
* Insight into his past lives
* Insight into the workings of
* Insight into the
Four Noble Truths
Four Noble Truths
According to Bronkhorst, the first two knowledges are later
additions, while insight into the four truths represents a later
development, in response to concurring religious traditions, in which
"liberating insight" came to be stressed over the practice of dhyana.
Vimutti, also called moksha, means "freedom", "release",
"deliverance". Sometimes a distinction is being made between
ceto-vimutti, "liberation of the mind", and panna-vimutti, "liberation
by understanding". The Buddhist tradition recognises two kinds of
ceto-vimutti, one temporarily and one permanent, the last being
equivalent to panna-vimutti.
Yogacara uses the term āśraya parāvŗtti, "revolution of the
... a sudden revulsion, turning, or re-turning of the ālaya
vijñāna back into its original state of purity the Mind returns to
its original condition of non-attachment, non-discrimination and
Nirvana is the "blowing out" of disturbing emotions, which is the
same as liberation. The usage of the term "enlightenment" to
translate "nirvana" was popularized in the 19th century, due, in part,
to the efforts of Max Muller, who used the term consistently in his
Siddhartha Gautama , known as the Buddha, is said to have achieved
full awakening, known as samyaksaṃbodhi (Sanskrit; Pāli:
sammāsaṃbodhi), "perfect Buddhahood", or
anuttarā-samyak-saṃbodhi, "highest perfect awakening".
The term buddha has acquired somewhat different meanings in the
various Buddhist traditions. An equivalent term for
Tathāgata , "the thus-gone". The way to
Buddhahood is somewhat
differently understood in the various buddhist traditions.
In the suttapitaka , the Buddhist canon as preserved in the
Theravada-tradition , a couple of texts can be found in which the
Buddha's attainment of liberation forms part of the narrative.
The Ariyapariyesana Sutta describes how the
Buddha was dissatisfied
with the teachings of Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, wandered
further through Magadhan country, and then found "an agreeable piece
of ground" which served for striving. The sutra then only says that he
The Mahasaccaka Sutta describes his ascetic practices, which he
abandoned. There-after he remembered a spontaneous state of jhana, and
set out for jhana-practice. After destroying the disturbances of the
mind , and attaining concentration of the mind , he attained three
* Insight into his past lives
* Insight into the workings of
* Insight into the
Four Noble Truths
Four Noble Truths
According to the Mahasaccaka Sutta these insights, including the way
to attain liberation, led the
Buddha himself straight to liberation.
Schmithausen notes that the mention of the four noble truths as
constituting "liberating insight", which is attained after mastering
the Rupa Jhanas, is a later addition to texts such as Majjhima Nikaya
36. Bronkhorst notices that
...the accounts which include the
Four Noble Truths
Four Noble Truths had a completely
different conception of the process of liberation than the one which
includes the Four Dhyanas and the destruction of the intoxicants.
It calls in question the reliability of these accounts, and the
relation between dhyana and insight, which is a core problem in the
study of early Buddhism. Originally the term prajna may have been
used, which came to be replaced by the four truths in those texts
where "liberating insight" was preceded by the four jhanas.
Bronkhorst also notices that the conception of what exactly this
"liberating insight" was developed throughout time. Whereas originally
it may not have been specified, later on the four truths served as
such, to be superseded by pratityasamutpada, and still later, in the
Hinayana schools, by the doctrine of the non-existence of a
substantial self or person. And Schmithausen notices that still other
descriptions of this "liberating insight" exist in the Buddhist canon:
"that the five Skandhas are impermanent, disagreeable, and neither
the Self nor belonging to oneself"; "the contemplation of the arising
and disappearance (udayabbaya) of the five Skandhas"; "the
realisation of the Skandhas as empty (rittaka), vain (tucchaka) and
without any pith or substance (asaraka).
An example of this substitution, and its consequences, is Majjhima
Nikaya 36:42-43, which gives an account of the awakening of the
DEVELOPMENT OF BUDDHAHOOD IN BUDDHIST TRADITIONS
Theravada Buddhism, reaching full awakening is equivalent in
meaning to reaching
Nirvāṇa . Attaining
Nirvāṇa is the ultimate
Theravada and other śrāvaka traditions. It involves the
abandonment of the ten fetters and the cessation of dukkha or
suffering. Full awakening is reached in four stages.
Bodhisattva is the ideal. The ultimate
goal is not only of one's own liberation in Buddhahood, but the
liberation of all living beings.
In time, the Buddha's awakening came to be understood as an immediate
full awakening and liberation, instead of the insight into and
certainty about the way to follow to reach enlightenment. However, in
Zen traditions this perfection came to be relativized again;
according to one contemporary
Zen master, "Shakyamuni buddha and
Bodhidharma are still practicing."
Buddhism also developed a cosmology with a wide range of
buddhas and bodhisattvas, who assist humans on their way to
WESTERN UNDERSTANDING OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Buddhist modernism ,
Transcendentalism , and Perennial
In the western world the concept of enlightenment has taken on a
romantic meaning. It has become synonymous with self-realization
and the true self , being regarded as a substantial essence being
covered over by social conditioning.
ENLIGHTENMENT AS "AUFKLäRUNG"
The use of the western word enlightenment is based on the supposed
resemblance of bodhi with Aufklärung , the independent use of reason
to gain insight into the true nature of our world. In fact there are
more resemblances with
Romanticism than with the Enlightenment: the
emphasis on feeling, on intuitive insight, on a true essence beyond
the world of appearances.
The equivalent term "awakening" has also been used in a Christian
context, namely the Great Awakenings , several periods of religious
revival in American religious history . Historians and theologians
identify three or four waves of increased religious enthusiasm
occurring between the early 18th century and the late 19th century.
Each of these "Great Awakenings" was characterized by widespread
revivals led by evangelical Protestant ministers, a sharp increase of
interest in religion, a profound sense of conviction and redemption on
the part of those affected, an increase in evangelical church
membership, and the formation of new religious movements and
ROMANTICISM AND TRANSCENDENTALISM
The romantic idea of enlightenment as insight into a timeless,
transcendent reality has been popularized especially by
D.T. Suzuki .
Further popularization was due to the writings of
Heinrich Dumoulin .
Dumoulin viewed metaphysics as the expression of a transcendent
truth, which according to him was expressed by
Mahayana Buddhism, but
not by the pragmatic analysis of the oldest Buddhism, which emphasizes
anatta. This romantic vision is also recognizable in the works of Ken
In the oldest
Buddhism this essentialism is not recognizable.
According to critics it doesn't really contribute to a real insight
...most of them labour under the old cliché that the goal of
Buddhist psychological analysis is to reveal the hidden mysteries in
the human mind and thereby facilitate the development of a
transcendental state of consciousness beyond the reach of linguistic
ENLIGHTENMENT AND EXPERIENCE
A common reference in western culture is the notion of "enlightenment
experience". This notion can be traced back to
William James , who
used the term "religious experience" in his book, The Varieties of
Religious Experience .
Wayne Proudfoot traces the roots of the notion
of "religious experience" further back to the German theologian
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who argued that religion is
based on a feeling of the infinite. Schleiermacher used the notion of
"religious experience" to defend religion against the growing
scientific and secular critique.
It was popularised by the
Transcendentalists , and exported to Asia
Transcendentalism developed as a reaction against
18th Century rationalism,
John Locke 's philosophy of
Sensualism , and
the predestinationism of New England
Calvinism . It is fundamentally a
variety of diverse sources such as Hindu texts like the
Vedas , the
Upanishads and the
Bhagavad Gita , various religions, and German
It was adopted by many scholars of religion, of which William James
was the most influential.
The notion of "experience" has been criticised. Robert Sharf
points out that "experience" is a typical western term, which has
found its way into Asian religiosity via western influences.
The notion of "experience" introduces a false notion of duality
between "experiencer" and "experienced", whereas the essence of kensho
is the realisation of the "non-duality " of observer and observed.
"Pure experience" does not exist; all experience is mediated by
intellectual and cognitive activity. The specific teachings and
practices of a specific tradition may even determine what "experience"
someone has, which means that this "experience" is not the proof of
the teaching, but a result of the teaching. A pure consciousness
without concepts, reached by "cleaning the doors of perception" as per
William Blake , would, according to Mohr, be an
overwhelming chaos of sensory input without coherence.
Buddhahood is celebrated on
Bodhi Day . In Sri Lanka and
Japan different days are used for this celebration.
According to the
Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka, Sakyamuni reached
Buddhahood at the full moon in May. This is celebrated at Wesak
the full moon in May, as
Sambuddhatva jayanthi (also known as
According to the
Zen tradition, the
Buddha reached his decisive
insight on 8 December. This is celebrated in
Zen monasteries with a
very intensive eight-day session of Rōhatsu .
Buddhism and psychology
* ^ See also Lourens Peter van den Bosch, Theosophy or Pantheism?
Friedrich Max Müller\'s Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion: "The
three principal themes of his Gifford lectures on natural religion
were the discovery of God, the discovery of the soul, and the
discovery of the oneness of God and soul in the great religions of the
* ^ Majjhima Nikaya chapter 36
* ^ See Encyclopedia.com, Vimutti
* ^ According to Gombrich, this distinction is artificial, and due
to later, too literal, interpretations of the suttas.
* ^ See Majjhima Nikaya chaper 4, 12, 26 -webkit-column-width:
30em; column-width: 30em; list-style-type: decimal;">
* ^ Fischer-Schreiber 2008 , p. 5051, lemma "bodhi".
* ^ A B C Carrette & King 2005 .
* ^ A B C D E Sharf 1995b .
* ^ A B C Sharf 2000 .
* ^ A B C D McMahan 2008 .
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* ^ A B Cohen 2006 , p. 2.
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* ^ Cohen 2006 , p. 4.
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* ^ A B C D E F Vetter 1988 .
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* ^ A B Gombrich 1997 .
* ^ A B Schreiber-Fischer 2008 , p. 51.
* ^ A B C Nyanatiloka 1980 , p. 150.
* ^ Fischer-Schreiber 2008 , p. 281.
* ^ A B Kapleau 1989 .
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