Experiences of Enlightenment
Q: What is it about an experience that makes it an experience of enlightenment?
A: Any experience will do. All experience is the same, all experience is light.
A strong belief in true enlightenment experiences might be helpful in the beginning as one searches for direction, pointers and confirmation. Certain experiences are very encouraging and inspiring. An out-of-body experience, where we look down at the physical body on the bed while hovering and moving about the room and perhaps about the country, can convince us that we are not the body. An experience of clearly witnessing the mind’s activities can convince us that we are not the mind. An experience of stillness can be a pointer to the stillness beyond experience. But ultimately, assuming that enlightenment is an experience leads to putting enlightenment ever at arm’s reach. There are two problems involved, the problem of the criterion and the problem of arm’s reach.
If there were such a thing as a separate and distinct experience “of” enlightenment, several things would be necessary. You would have to have (i) a separate experience, which stands in some relation to (ii) enlightenment. That is, we’d say that (i) refers to (ii) by being “of” (ii). But the “of-ness” is a myth and doesn’t exist. To rely on this of-ness and “take it to the bank” involves two insoluble problems:
The Problem of the Criterion
What makes this experience one of enlightenment? If there is an experience of enlightenment, then this divides the world of experience into halves, where some experiences are of enlightenment and some are not. Next arises the need for some kind of criterion. What is it that makes this an experience of enlightenment? A feeling of oneness, lack of limitations, bliss or expansion? Such a criterion is usually in terms of some subjectively experienced state, complete with a “me” that experiences it. What makes any one criterion better than another? Definitions differ widely. And in the case of any criterion, it can only point to some state, however lofty and heavenly, that comes and goes. But THIS, NOW, is not a coming-and-going thing and is never removed from the present.
The Problem of Arm’s Reach
This is a thornier problem, where enlightenment will be forever out of reach. If there is an experience of enlightenment, it is like a picture of dinner, not dinner itself. With such an experience and its referring relationship to enlightenment, enlightenment must always stand outside the experience. This puts enlightenment out of at arm’s reach. You can never get there from here.
But worse, if enlightenment is a psychological state or other object standing remote from me or standing outside of experience, it makes no sense to talk about enlightenment at all. In general, we have no knowledge or no evidence or no experience to talk about ANYTHING outside experience. The notion of something existing outside of experience cannot be validated by experience. In fact, any attempted validation is self- defeating. Why? Because even a logical or verbal proof attempting to show that some object exists outside of experience actually proves its own contrary, by putting that object at least in some sense, like a unicorn, WITHIN our experience. Experience doesn’t confirm objects; it self-confirms in the present. It is ever now, here.
In this way, all experience is the same. It is light that is the nature of us. Apparent objects seem to come and go in this light, but when they are searched for, they cannot be found. There is no experience of enlightenment, for nothing is separate from experience. Rather, experience itself is light.