What’s Needed for Enlightenment?

There is much confusion regarding what is required for the attainment of Enlightenment, or Illumination, or becoming Awake.  There are many different opinions and ideas on this subject, as evidenced by the many different forms or schools of Buddhism, and even of other disciplines or systems which claim to be paths to Enlightenment.  Let us dispel this confusion.

 First, what is Enlightenment?  It is knowing.  It is understanding.  But there are many “smaller” knowings or understandings.  One can know how to do something, one’s trade or business, for example, and one has an understanding in the sphere of one’s trade or business.  But this is not what is meant by Enlightenment.

Enlightenment, if it is to be Enlightenment, is more general or more universal than knowing or understanding in some limited sphere.  If Enlightenment is to be Enlightenment, must be universal.  It must be Enlightenment in all things.  But we are limited beings and cannot know all things, so does this mean that we cannot attain Enlightenment, that is, some universal knowledge not limited to this or that sphere, but universally applicable to all spheres and activities?

Rather than knowing all, which is an impossible form of Enlightenment, we can know how to know, and how to think.  Knowing how to know is something that can be applied to all spheres, all activities, all endeavors.  Empiricorational thought is knowing how to know, in a sense.  It is the way one thinks when one knows how to know.  Empiricorationalism is at the heart of Scio-Buddhism…but it is only the beginning of Enlightenment.

Before going further about enlightenment, however, something important should be noted regarding the relationship between Empiricorationalism and the “Noble Noble Eightfold Path” as described by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The Noble Noble Eightfold Path is the fourth and final of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble truths are all about.

• the truth (or definition and existence) of dukkha,
• the arising and origin of dukkha,
• the state of the cessation or absence of dukkha,
• and the path for the cessation of dukkha.

(Dukkha is a Pali term which is most commonly translated as “suffering,” but often also as “anxiety”, “stress”, or “unsatisfactoriness”. We will simply use the untranslated term dukkha, so as not to color the word with one particular meaning.)

As mentioned above, The Noble Eightfold Path is the forth and final of the Four Noble Truths, and it describes eight interconnected elements or conditions which reinforce one another and which together lead to the cessation of dukkha and to “self-awakening,” “Enlightenment,” or “Illumination.”  Each of these elements or conditions begin with the word sammā, which is most frequently translated as “right,” but also can be denote such concepts as “completeness,” “togetherness,” “wholeness,” and “coherence,” as well as “perfect,” “ideal,” “wholesome,” “wise” and “skillful”.

The very first of the elements of The Noble Eightfold Path is “right view,” where “view” can also be translated as “persepective,” or “understanding.”  And this brings us back to Empiricorationalism.

There is no better way to know reality than Empiricorationalism. In a very real sense, Empiricorationality is the “rightest” of views, the most complete of understandings.  It is not wisdom, but provides a reality-based foundation for wisdom.  It is not, of itself, Enlightenment or Illumination, but it is an essential component thereof.

To go from what we may call the “pre-Enlightened” stage of Empiricorationalism to Enlightenment itself requires more.  In fact, The Noble Eightfold Path shows us the “more” which is required. More will be said about The Noble Eightfold Path elsewhere, so for now let us speak about what is necessary for Enlightenment, aside from Empiricorationalism and even aside from The Noble Eightfold Path.

There are many “schools” of Buddhism.  Some may say “This practice is the way,” some may say “That practice is the way.”  Some say that a guru or teacher is required.  Some say that it is necessary to be given “koans” (such as the very famous, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”) to contemplate. Or bowing to statues or to the floor.  Or sitting lotus-style, cross-legged, with each foot resting on top of the opposite leg. Or reciting “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō,” over and over again.  Or whatever.

In contrast to these differing opinions, here is the Empiricorationally grounded view.  The Buddha did not have a guru or teacher to show him the way; in fact, his Awakening was due, in large part, to his rejection of the teachings and paths of others, and his seeking his own way.  He had no one giving him koans to contemplate. He performed no ritual bowing, and recited no ritual chants. He did meditate while sitting lotus-style, but his sitting posture was incidental to his meditation: it was simply the way he was used to sitting for long periods of time, and this made it the natural position to assume while meditating, for him.

So, gurus and teachers are not necessary. They may facilitate the path to Enlightenment (if they are truly good at what they do) but they are not a necessity. (It actually seems a bit self-serving when some school claims that one needs a teacher…and they just happen to have them!) As for koans, it is quite possible that Siddhartha Gautama asked himself some very difficult questions, but it seems highly unlikely that koans such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” was one of them. Koans may not hinder Enlightenment, and they may in fact help make one’s mind more “receptive” to Enlightenment in some ways, but again, they are not necessary. Ritual bowing and chanting, likewise, may aid in creating a “receptive” mind, or in creating certain “attitudes,” but they also are not necessary. The same may even be said of the famous “lotus-style” sitting posture: possibly beneficial, but not necessary.

What then is necessary? Well, The Noble Eightfold Path, Empiricorationally understood and applied does seem to be a very powerful aid in gaining Enlightenment.  It should be noted that whereas “right view” is the first element of The Noble Eightfold Path, the eighth and final element is “right concentration,” which is also known as “right meditation.” So, meditation is an essential element, although the posture one takes during can vary depending upon one’s level of physical ability and flexibility.

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