There is a ‘joke’ that circulates among some meditation circles about enlightenment being something that one believes is attainable — for oneself; but impossible for anyone else to attain. I think it is less a joke than it is a formularized exasperation — let’s call it dark humor — for those working to become enlightened, because they are constantly slammed down whenever they claim that the slightest bit of light has entered the darkness of their mind. Of course, you are correct when you say:

If you think you know what it means or is, you have not attained it either, or you would not be thinking that perhaps you have.

I’ve never met a practicing buddhist who believes that enlightenment is possible for anyone other than Buddha, but then, that’s kind of an inside joke too because in Buddhism enlightenment is Buddhahood, so only Buddha is enlightened. And there is actually a very deep truth in those statements that is lost on most people — and you don’t even have to be enlightened to see it, just attentive to the meaning of the words.

You are incorrect though, Clare, when you say:

Enlightenment usually comes from deep practice of one contemplative tradition or another. But not always. Sometimes it can come out of the blue, stimulated by some simple event that opens your mind and perceptions fully in an instant.

The truth is, enlightenment only ever comes out of the blue, fully, in an instant, because there is no partial enlightenment. Which is not to say that we do not become “fully” enlightened in steps — that is exactly what happens, each step arrives out of the blue, fully, in an instant… in an eternal process.

The main importance of the “deep practice of one contemplative tradition or another” is not because it brings about enlightenment, but because it gets rid of the obstructions that obfuscate our already fully enlightened nature.

But there is another importance to the “one contemplative tradition or another,” that I will illustrate with a quote. You see, the merit badge of being enlightened is something that can only be conferred on one by those who are themselves already in possession of that merit badge, having had it conferred on them by other merit badge holders. This isn’t the negative dismissal it may sound like — who else but a fully enlightened being could possibly judge whether or not someone is enlightened?

So, the quote… it’s a Tibetan story about the second historical Buddha, Padmasambhava, referred to in the quote, and in Tibetan Buddhism in general, as “Guru Rinpoche:”

While demonstrating some of the extraordinary signs of his realization near the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodhgaya, an old lady asked him, “Who is your teacher? To which lineage do you belong?” Guru Rinpoche replied, “I have no teacher and have no need of one. Neither do I belong to any particular lineage. I am a totally enlightened being, primordially aware.” The old woman immediately responded by saying, “Oh, that’s not right. Without the blessings of a teacher, you cannot be enlightened. You must have a connection with a master. Lacking that, no one will accept your words.” He quickly understood the import of the old woman’s statement in relation to making the teaching available to others. To demonstrate the supreme means of approaching the Dharma, “the Supreme Knowledge Holder” (Padmasambhava) began to seek out lineage masters and followed teachings according to their instructions. This indicates that even if you are already a highly enlightened being, it is still necessary to have lineage connections⁠.¹

And in fact, this is the truth. It takes a “second” to start a movement, i.e., somone to recognize the enlightened being.

In the case of the historical Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, he hesitated to teach because (I’m paraphrasing here) “No one will listen to me, and if they listen to me, no one will understand.” And, I believe, deep down inside all of us who use contemplative methods in order to remove obstructions, we accept the latter as universally true — except that is, for those who have been conferred a title by a lineage of title-holders.

Finally, I want to jump to something else you said, which is very important, because, at its heart, it is the one sole lesson of the Buddha. You said:

One of the pre-requisites then of achieving enlightenment is not to strive for enlightenment but to practice without goals or expectations or judgments and to allow it to arrive for you when ‘it’ deems you are ready to receive it. That might be any time or might be never, both are equally valid and valuable.
But then how we are inspired to do stuff that makes us deeper and wiser and more clearly perceptive of the nature of reality, if we have no goal of enlightenment to draw us along?

Basically, the Buddha said that craving ends in suffering and the way to escape suffering is not to crave anything. But he explained it more clearly as desiring something that you cannot have/will not get is to crave it, which leads to frustration, which is suffering.

Desire, after all, is what motivates us to do anything, otherwise we would all die naked and emaciated in a pool of our own excrement. Without the desire to become enlightened, or compassionate, or even just more attentive/focused (or all of today’s other desired goals of stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, losing weight, etc.), what would motivate us to spend time meditating? There are so many other things demanding our attention, after all.

So we must desire the result, without graving it when it does not arrive when we think it should. And in general, that is a wise prescription for life in general.

The other 87,999 teachings of the Buddha are all clarifications of this.

So, one must have faith, or its more presently palatable synonym, trust, that one’s efforts will pay off, or nothing would be attempted. But, at the point where we think we should be enlightened, we have to let go of the desire, lest it become graving, which would forever place the goal out of our reach.

And then, who knows? Maybe one day, out of the blue, fully, in an instant, it will arrive. But don’t tell anyone! haha

¹ “The Eight Manifestations Of Gurupadmasambhava,” by Khenchen Palden Sherab

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