By Ruth Lera


“Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa

This is more of a question than an article really, because if there is anyone who can help with me understanding  the concept enlightenment, I am sure it is the readers of The Tattooed Buddha.

You see, after all these years of studying Buddhism, visiting monasteries and hanging out with self-professed awakened beings, I still have no clue what enlightenment is. Chogyam Trungpa’s quote about enlightenment being ego’s disappointment definitely feels intuitively true, but when I try to really grasp the concept with my mind, it flies away from me like sand in a windstorm.

Maybe it is ego itself preventing me from understanding enlightenment? Maybe my own ego’s drive to survive is as strong as everyone else’s, and whenever I try to understand enlightenment from a cognitive perspective resistance pops in and messes it all up?

I once asked my meditation teacher at a retreat about what it means to be enlightened. He said, “People can have enlightened experiences, but the real question is do they act in an enlightened manner?”

But I find this answer confusing because I have always thought that being enlightened meant the end of Karma. That to be enlightened, as the Buddha was, is to end the cycle of Samsara and no longer be re-incarnated.

Do our actions still matter if we are enlightened?

This is the Buddhist view of enlightenment I embraced when I was young, not because I understood it exactly, but because it made sense in some sort of intellectual manner. But from the healing perspectives I am now using in my own intuitive healing practice, it all becomes confusing again. Lately, I am finding myself immersed in past lives and other dimensions then I’ve never experienced before (or have experienced in past lives and now I am only remembering).

There are guides and angels, ancestors and ghosts, and all types of things around us all the time, I am learning, and they are dying and being reincarnated. I find this beautiful, natural and fascinating.

However, these experiences are doing nothing to further my understanding of enlightenment. Instead I have to wonder, can we only truly understand enlightenment when it happens to us?

Perhaps we need to get completely fed up with the human experience to even get within multiple lifetimes of becoming enlightened. Most of the people I know want to keep being human (although some definite regret their specific incarnation now), yet, I have met people—mostly men—who are in a rush to become enlightened. They want to fast track to enlightenment in this lifetime, even if it means celibacy, no dinner and meditating all day and night.

What I don’t understand is what do they think enlightenment is? Do they think enlightenment is better than being in the human soul incarnation cycle they are presently in? Because that seems to be what the enlightenment advertising touts.

To me this striving to be enlightened seems like the exact opposite of the way to get there. Striving is all from ego, and from what little I do grasp about the whole enlightenment schtick is that we need to surrender all ego to get to enlightenment.

Can you tell I am confused?

In many ways this is an intellectual exercise for me. In my own life I work to embody my human incarnation as much as possible, (although let me tell you, sometimes I certainly don’t want to) and find the best ways to be of service in my most humanly, authentic way.

I keep exploring this topic of enlightenment though, because it seems that just through the process of exploring this topic we can look closer at our own attachments, and start to question all of the things we think are certain, and maybe see a little clearer the impermanence in our own understanding of reality.

But as I said at the beginning of this article, this is really a question—a question to all of you.

What do you think enlightenment is? Enlighten me!


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Editor: Dana Gornall



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