Western-Secular-Style Enlightenment

by Mike Sententia on July 30, 2012

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Ask 3 mages to define “enlightenment,” and you’ll get 5 answers. So, if we’re going to talk enlightenment this week, let’s start with what I mean by it.

I’m Not Buddhist

The first thing you need to know is, I’m not Buddhist. If you need a label, I’m probably Western-scientific.

Why does that come first? Because most enlightenment-writers borrow from Buddhism, focusing on non-dualism and meditation. I can’t even define “non-dualism” — I tried, did it poorly, and removed it from the post. So, anything you know about common paths to enlightenment probably won’t apply to this series.

To my Buddhist readers: I have nothing against Buddhism or Buddhists. Your practices seem to produce good, generous people, at a rate significantly above average. It’s just not my path.

What I Mean by “Enlightenment”

Basically, helping people and building things because you want to (rather than for personal gain); not acting out of anger, pettiness, or similar destructive emotions; and generally acting in a generous, mature way. Only doing harm as a conscious decision, not a rash reaction, and minimizing the harm while achieving your goals. It’s only sensible to value your happiness above others’, and your friends’ well-being above strangers, but you should place a non-trivial positive value on strangers, too. I don’t have an airtight definition, but if you think about how an enlightened person would act, that’s basically what I mean.

You’ll notice, I’m describing behaviors and the thoughts that lead directly to behaviors. That’s because, if you’re acting enlightened, I don’t particularly care if you view the universe as one thing or a million, and I don’t particularly care if you can quiet your mind easily or not. What I care about is making sure that I use my magick to help people and build things, and making sure the people around me do, too. So that’s my definition of enlightenment.

There are multiple paths to this sort of enlightenment. Buddhist practices seem to work for some people. Some forms of psychotherapy do, as well. Even something as simple as being raised by particularly healthy, generous parents would probably suffice for the right person. (“The right person” meaning that there’s a genetic component to this, as well.)

Why don’t I adopt one of those techniques? A few reasons. First, speed: I want something that works in a few weeks of effort, spread over 1-3 years, so anything that talks about a lifelong journey is straight out. Second, generalizability: I want to build on these techniques, adding fast ways to update beliefs, the ability to help others with fast enlightenment, and possibly an additional step, more enlightened than what I’m thinking of now. And third, I enjoy direct magick, and don’t enjoy those other practices.

Now that we’re on the same page on enlightenment, we can start discussing techniques tomorrow.

Other posts in this series: If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ananael Qaa July 31, 2012 at 6:27 AM

In Western terms I use “realization” or even “Gnosis” quite a bit as synonyms for “enlightenment.” They’re all terms for the expansion and integration of consciousness, which is what pretty much every mystical school is all about.

The enlightened perspective is in fact pretty simple to describe – you work for the benefit of sentient beings in general, which includes yourself. So, for example, it’s completely reasonable to pursue a goal that will make you happier so long as you don’t do it in such a way that creates greater overall unhappiness in others. Similarly, it’s reasonable to help others so long as you aren’t harming yourself in the process.

When you read interviews of Eastern sages and they say things like “I’m nothing special” this is what they mean. From an enlightened perspective there’s no privileged frame of reference, which means that you perceive yourself as one sentient being among others.

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Mike Sententia August 3, 2012 at 10:33 PM

“Working for the benefit of sentient beings in general” is a concise, clear way to put it. I might adopt that.

And thanks for explaining that quote from the Eastern sages. I’ve heard it before but didn’t quite get it.

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Simon August 2, 2012 at 6:09 AM

I respect that you’re trying to define your terms before proceeding but, after reading this, I have to wonder why you even want to call it ‘enlightenment’.

From anything i’ve managed to grasp about this enlightenment deal what you are describing are the initial stages- the ‘clearing of emotional baggage’ and balancing of the personality before one can successfully explore the deeper and more exotic parts of consciousness. And I know you’re often not keen on the ‘consciousness’ model to talk about magical pursuits but with this subject i’m not sure you can avoid it.

There’s actually a useful analogy in artificial intelligence for this problem from the ‘event horizon’ theorists. As i’m sure you know they propose that attempts to define or predict the nature of an artificial intelligence that supersedes the capabilities of current humans will fail. This is because its rather like a dog intelligence trying to predict what a human intelligence might do. It cannot conceive of it and will just project its own biases and concerns. e.g “a human intelligence will be better at digging up bones and sniffing females”

In Indian yogic (not Buddhist) terminology we have the normal waking and dreaming states of consciousness called Jagrat and swapna respectively which are concerned with the thinking dimensions of the mind. Then there is the state of shushupti which most of us only know of as that dreamless state of sleep where we don’t actually remember anything. Adepts are apparently able to retain their awareness of this state. Then far beyond this is Turiya which sometimes is referred to as Samadhi.
At this level we are not talking about anything that is recognizably a ‘mind’ or ‘mental state’. Those people who gain access to this state have always reported that it makes the other ‘normal’ mind states seem illusory and temporary by comparison and all attempts to define it or say ‘what it is useful for’ will fail ultimately.

And this is the problem of trying to define ‘enlightenment’ from the ‘western scientific’ point of view. It will invariably be a definition coming from the Jagrat/swapna aspect of awareness because that is western science’s bias and, in many cases, the only sphere of awareness that it will admit exists. It’s what you are advocating when you say you don’t care how someone ‘views’ the universe or what their mind/no-mind is doing as long as they are performing the right actions because THAT is the level that really counts. I understand why you’re going for this definition. However for the person who has experienced Turiya, whilst they would not deny the importance of doing good works in the sphere of Jagrat, would insist it is only a minor part of the picture and that this can only be understood once the state has been achieved. In other words you cannot adequately define it just by external behaviours or mental process.

You might accuse the adept of Turiya as engaging in the logical fallacy of ‘scared science’ which pleads a special case for a type of consciousness that puts it above all logical dissections and objections. (usually good for getting Guru’s off the hook with a “you cannot understand why I need to sleep with 14 year old girls from your level of consciousness”). And logically you’d be correct of course- but yet I don’t really see anyway around the issue unless the whole Turiya / Smadhi thing really is complete fantasy (which I don’t believe it is). The dog intelligence cannot judge the priorities of a human intelligence. You’ll just get more digging up bones and sniffing females:

I am not in a position to worship OR denounce someone who seals themselves up in the side of a mountain for 40 years on account of experiencing Samadhi. But according to your definition, because the activity is not apparently ‘useful’ and does not ‘build things’ it is not enlightenment.

Again I find myself engaging in terminology questions. At one level its only words but to say that someone who had good parents or did some personal development work is ‘enlightened’ seems to dilute the term- like calling someone who just did the first 1 month module of an 8 year medicine course a ‘doctor’.

I do wonder if things wouldn’t be clearer if you kept to more mundane sounding terms for your integration method and left ‘enlightenment’ out of it for now rather than trying to shoe-horn the term into a ‘western scientific’ explanation. Obviously I’m usually in favor of applying western rationalism to such matters but this is one area where i’m a lot more skeptical- for logical reasons.

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Mike Sententia August 3, 2012 at 10:34 PM

Thanks for the nudge to tell more of the story, Simon. Indeed, there is more to it, I was just having trouble explaining it all without sharing aspects of what I do that I wasn’t sure I wanted to share. (Like ascention.) This is one of the comments that got me talking about it.

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