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Enlightenment (concept)

(Redirected from Moksha)

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Enlightenment in Western Philosophy

Kant's definition of enlightenment

In his famous 1784 EV essay What Is Enlightenment?, Immanuel Kant defined it as follows:

"Enlightenment is man's leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if its cause is not lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one's intelligence without being guided by another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own intelligence!"

Adorno's and Horkheimer's definition of enlightenment

In their controversial and devastating analysis of the contemporary western society, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer developed a wider, and more pessimistic concept of enlightenment. In their analysis enlightenment had its dark side: while trying to abolish superstition and myths by 'foundationalist' philosophy, it ignored its own 'mythical' basis. Its strivings towards totality and certainty led to an increasing instrumentalization of reason and thus it was ultimately responsible for the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. In their view the enlightenment itself should be enlightened and not posed as a 'myth-free' view of the world.

Spirituality and enlightenment

Enlightenment as a concept, is related to the Buddhist Bodhi. It is a cornerstone of religious and spiritual understanding in many, but not all religions. (Its counterparts, the Christian and Judaic ideas of spiritual knowledge used the concept called divine illumination.) Systematic search for enlightenment was a goal of the seekers after they found their master teachers or gurus, who could guide them. However, this formulation was not necessarily spiritual. In earlier times, such as during the Bon period of Tibetan religion, it was essentially magical, which is a pre-scientific stage. After the systematic methods were learned in India, the nations of Asia made pilgrimages to learn them. The relationship between seeker and guru was and remains, in most cases, an essential point for Enlightenment. There are practical signs of such a state, which can be recognized by a guru. Thus there is a practical, even secular component to Enlightenment, which differs from the requirement of Christian divine grace from God, which was essentially mystical or sacred.

Enlightenment in Thelema

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Bodhi (Pali and Sanskrit. Lit. awakening. Trans. enlightenment) is a title given in Buddhism to the specific awakening experience attained by the Indian spiritual teacher Gautama Buddha and his disciples. It is sometimes described as complete and perfect sanity, or awareness of the true nature of the universe. After attainment, it is believed one is freed from the cycle of Samsāra (birth, suffering, death and rebirth).

Bodhi is attained only by the accomplishment of the Paramitas (perfections), when the Four Noble Truths are fully grasped, and when all karma has reached cessation. At this moment, all greed (lobha), aversion (dosa), delusion (moha), ignorance (avijjā), craving (tanha) and ego-centered consciousness (attā) are extinguished. Bodhi thus includes anattā, the absence of ego-centeredness.

Pacceka-Bodhi (Pratyeka)

Those who obtain enlightenment through self-realisation, without the aid of spiritual guides and teachers, are known as pratyekabuddhas. According to the Tripitaka, such beings only arise in ages where the dhamma has been lost. Their skill in helping others to obtain enlightenment is inferior to that of the arhats. Many pratyekas may arise at a single time.

Sāvaka-Bodhi (Arhat)

Those who study under spiritual teachers and achieve enlightenment in this world are known as Arhats. Such beings are skilled at helping others to reach enlightenment as they may draw on personal experience.

Sammā-Sambodhi (supreme Buddha)

These are "perfect, most developed, most compassionate, most loving, all knowing beings" who fully comprehend the dhamma by their own efforts and wisdom and teach it skillfully to others, freeing them from Samsāra.


Moksha (Sanskrit: liberation) or Mukti (Sanskrit: release) refers, in general, to liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. In higher Hindu philosophy, it is seen as a transcendence of phenomenal being, of any sense of consciousness of time, space and causation (Karma). It is not seen as a soteriological goal in the same salvific sense as, say, in a Judeo-Christian context, but signifies dissolution of the sense of "I", or ego, and the overall breakdown of nama-roopa (name-form). It is, in Hinduism, viewed as analogous to Nirvana, though Buddhist thought tends to differ with even the Advaita Vedantist reading of liberation. Jainism also believes in Moksha.

Hinduism, in support of the idea of Moksha, posits the idea of atman and Brahman. A common mistake is to view them, both spoken of as Self, as a monist being of sorts, something possessing substance. In actuality, Hindu scripture like the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, and especially the non-dual Hindu school of Advaita Vedanta, say that the Self or Super-Soul is beyond being and non-being, beyond any sense of tangibility and comprehension. Moksha is seen as a final release from one's worldly conception of self, the loosening of the shackle of experiential duality and a re-establishment in one's own fundamental nature, though the nature is seen as ineffable and beyond sensation.

Means to achieve Moksha

There are four yogas (unions) or margs (paths) for the attainment of Moksha. They are the ways of selfless work, of self-dissolving love, of absolute discernment, and of 'royal' meditative immersion. Different schools of Hinduism place varying emphasis on one path or other, some of the most famous being the tantric and yogic practices developed in Hinduism. Today, the two major schools of thought are Advaita Vedanta and Bhakti branches.

  1. Bhakti sees the Self as God, most often a personified monotheistic conception of Vishnu, Shiva or Devi (the Mother Goddess). Unlike in Abrahamic traditions, this monotheism does not prevent a Hindu from worship of other aspects of God, beings or teachers, as they are all seen as rays from a single source. However, it is noteworthy that the Bhagavad Gita condemns worship of demigods as it does not lead to Moksha. The concept is essentially of self-dissolution in love, since the ideal nature of being is seen as that of harmony, euphony, its manifest essence being love. By immersing oneself in the love of God, one's Karma (good or bad, regardless) sloughs off, one's illusions about beings decay and 'truth' is soon known and lived.
  2. Vedanta finds itself split three-fold, though the dualist and modified non-dualist schools are primarily associated with the foregoing thought of Bhakti. The most famous today is Advaita Vedanta, a non-dual (i.e. no separation between the individual and reality/God/etc.) perspective which often played the role of Hindu foil to contemporary Buddhist philosophy. In general, it focused on intense meditation and moral realignment, its bedrock being the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and the teachings of its putative founder, Adi Shankara. Through discernment of the real and the unreal, as a peeling of the layers of an onion, the sadhak (practitioner) would unravel the maya of being and the cosmos to find nothing within, a nothingness which was paradoxically being, and transcendentally beyond both such inadequate descriptions. This was Moksha, this was atman and Brahman realized as the substance and void of existential duality.

Yogic Enlightenment

Enlightenment in Yoga seems to include the following elements:

  1. A shift into Samadhi, where the thought-narrative is not perceived as the self but rather as a mental tool. In this state the self is perceived as the awareness the experiences the thoughts.
  2. An emotional equilibrium or happiness, more formally developed in Buddhism.
  3. A neurological-sensory transformation known as raising the Kundalini. In a process of meditation, stress is comprehensively released from the system, resulting in heightened senses, and the activation of several pleasure centers in the brain.

See also


External Links

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