The Myth of Enlightenment

climbing to moon

“There is no such thing as enlightenment.

The full appreciation of that fact is, itself, enlightenment.”

~Sri Nisargadatta

As was mentioned in my previous essay about Zen and the Emotional/Sexual Contraction here , there has been quite a bit of discussion around ongoing sex scandals involving various revered Zen Masters, Tibetan Lamas, Hindu Gurus and Swamis, and so forth here in the West. Many cannot fathom how supposedly “Enlightened Masters” can be involved in such shenanigans. I will briefly address that issue here, based on what I have learned in the course of my own life-long investigation.

That Enlightenment is some kind of state or condition which beings can attain while in human form is one of the first myths that need to be discarded, if we are actually going to wake up to what this birth is truly all about – enjoyment and appreciation of the experience of being human. Moreover, claims of such attainment are typically automatic disqualifiers, so caveat emptor! In the spiritually mature, there is no self being projected that could be enlightened or not. The thought doesn’t even arise.

Indeed, that which would gain some sort of spiritual achievement is actually the false sense of independent identity that obstructs any fundamental realization. The notion that enlightenment is going to result from some combination of practices or efforts is purely a human fantasy, and actually an impediment to the recognition of the primordial state which is not an attainment, but ever-present as the shine of reality itself.

The late Sage Ramana Maharshi pointed out that true realization is not an attainment when he noted: “The state of Self-realization, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been. The state we call realization is simply being oneself, not knowing anything or becoming anything.”

Undoubtedly, there are those who enjoy experiences of blissful clear seeing, states of oneness and universal connectivity, or mystical transport and visionary phenomena. However, no human has ever “become enlightened”. This is not to say that there are no past or even current exemplary individuals who have awakened in an authentic sense to the two-fold emptiness of self and phenomena — their dream-like nature — and thus are relatively liberated from the various mechanics of suffering, as well as the accompanying afflictive states and conditions that characterize the usual human experience. Seeing everything as a dream — even the pursuit of enlightenment, as well as the one who would pursue it – is a sign of real wisdom. The Zen patriarch Dogen clarified the matter when he noted that “the truth of the Buddha’s and ancestors’ realization consists invariably of what a dream makes within a dream.”

Unfortunately, most of the legendary characters of spiritual lore who are held up as examples of profound realization have since become victims of fantasy stories and inflated hagiographies that air-brush away their humanity and replace it with an idealized mythology. That practice has actually done more harm than good — placing them on a pedestal and imbuing them with a “specialness” that effectively distances them from those who would emulate them.


Certainly, there are many individuals who may even have attained remarkable powers (siddhis) through the application of various yogic techniques. The human potential is indeed amazing, though to a large extent still relatively untapped, except in rare cases. As time proceeds, unlocking the energetic mysteries latent within the human bio-vehicle will prove to be a major boon and stimulus for the ongoing evolution of the species.

Nevertheless, the human construct itself, with all its ingenious neural circuitry, still does not have the capacity to handle the energetic vibrational frequency of real enlightenment. The physical container itself would be blasted apart in an instant! To illustrate by way of example, imagine attempting to pour a million watts through an electronic appliance with a load capacity of 10 watts (or even a capacity of 1000 watts, in the case of the aforementioned rare individuals – the same result would still prevail).

Once returned to our own natural state after the death of the material form body, it is not uncommon to recognize our previous human spiritual outlook — including our most profound conceptions of Enlightenment — as charmingly naive at best, and even infantile in the higher view of things (and there most certainly is a larger picture that we in human form cannot even begin to comprehend as long as we are confined to the denser vibrational frequencies that pertain in this dimension).

Indeed, once the dense meat suit is slipped off and we reintegrate with our “Whole Self” in the Spirit World, we will typically recognize the obvious. That is, whatever had passed for some degree of self-awareness during physical incarnation was mostly a kind of dull sleep-walk in comparison to our actual state. Indeed, the trick of embodiment itself was like a magical illusion, a virtual reality. Even then, there are many levels of awareness far beyond our ken that still must be traversed before one can speak of true enlightenment. The luminous orb of our soul body itself is still a kind of temporary sheath that too must ultimately be discarded (but that’s skipping ahead a bit).

Furthermore, the vast majority of us are not really here, incarnating in this limited psycho-physical realm, to pursue some humanly-conceived “Enlightenment”. “The Spiritual Search” is an escape game that has kept us mostly misdirected down through the centuries, and indeed accounts for a good deal of the turmoil, confusion, delusion, and strife we put ourselves through here on this rock. At its core, it merely represents another mentally fabricated strategy to have things be other than they are.

As the great Adept Dilgo Khyentse so well phrased it: “The everyday practice . . . is just everyday life itself. Since the undeveloped state does not exist, there is no need to behave in any special way or attempt to attain anything above and beyond what you actually are. There should be no feeling of striving to reach some “amazing goal” or “advanced state”. To strive for such a state is a neurosis which only conditions us and serves to obstruct the free flow of Mind. We should also avoid thinking of ourselves as worthless persons – we are naturally free and unconditioned. We are intrinsically enlightened and lack nothing.”

sun dance

Once the temporary human costume drops away (and with it, the theatrical drama of the human experience), what we eventually come to realize quite vividly is that the only part of our life’s efforts that actually amounted to anything was not the attainment of some lofty samadhi, awesome powers, or penetrating insight into emptiness. Rather, what we ultimately discover is that all that really mattered was how we treated each other – the love that we shared. Moreover, regardless of any honorific titles and trappings we may have come by or have bestowed on us, if our various “spiritual” practices failed to enhance our capacity for love, then they were wasted.

“Enlightenment” is truly our prior and timeless condition, which is set aside in order to enter into the denser planes of existence, such as this virtual reality game of being human. By choosing to come here, we also accept a kind of amnesia regarding our true condition, which is necessary in order to imbue the human experience with a quality of visceral reality. The illusion keeps things “interesting”, in that regard, as we confront the unknown. Likewise, all ensuing lessons, adventures, and interactions are rendered more impactful due to their freshness and immediacy. In that regard, it could be said that, by submitting to the amnesia, we lose ourselves to find ourselves.


In our process of self-discovery, we fuse with the human bio-vehicle, because we are interested in how we will react to certain compelling simulations specific to the human experience. Through trial and error, we find out how to “do the right thing” in every test challenge we dream up for ourselves (often in conjunction with our “soul group”).

We take on this human form because that potential circumstance is intriguing to us (and so different than what we really are), just as video gaming is fascinating to some, putting the player into challenging and provocative situations that they would not normally encounter. When asked why so many souls incarnate into bodies, the sage Nisargadatta replied: “To know itself the self must be faced with its opposite — the not-self. Desire leads to experience. Experience leads to discrimination, detachment, self-knowledge — liberation. And what is liberation after all? To know that you are beyond birth and death.”

We’re certainly not here to escape into some human notion of enlightenment, but more to experience “un-enlightenment”, and all the thrills and spills involved in that virtual scenario. We then have some stories (data) to take back with us and share with our “Group” or “Family” — the ones we’ve been traveling with for unaccountable eons. This new data in turn contributes to the ongoing evolution of that “cell”. I call it a cell because that is just what we are like, cells within a larger body, which in turn is a cell within an even larger body, and so on beyond any human comprehension.

There is no such thing as “right” or “wrong” data — it’s all fuel for the ongoing expansion of the larger Consciousness, the ongoing evolution of “God or “Source”, of which all of us are unique though temporary expressions in our various human, soul, and causal incarnations. None of those expressions or transient identities become “enlightened”, but only serve as costumes (like space suits) for immortal Spirit — the impersonal enlightened nature that is always already the reality.

Just so, as we deepen in our appreciation of our actual condition, we may even come to see through the creative fiction of “personhood” altogether. After all, if the person we take ourselves to be is simply a bundle of thoughts, memories, sensations, and perceptions, then what is it – who is it – that is going to attain enlightenment? In that regard, Shunryu Suzuki summed it up well: “Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity.”

The founder of the Rinza Sect of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, Lin Chi, was even more direct when he told an assembly of monks: “I tell you, there’s no Buddha, no Dharma, no practice, no enlightenment. Yet you go off like this on side roads, trying to find something. Blind fools! Will you put another head on top of the one you have? What is it you lack?”

Likewise, the Sage who taught Nisargadatta Maharaj, Siddharameshwar, noted: “If there is a certain notion that you have direct ‘Realization,’ it is only the delusion of a confused mind. This confusion is only the enhancement of the Illusion that is already there. It is the spectacle, the festival of Illusion. Every so-called ‘Realization’ is Illusion.”

Nevertheless, to actually penetrate this “open secret” is no easy task. Mark Twain once noted, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” Certainly, it’s implications are a threat to the religions that would keep us in the dark, in order to maintain the illusion that their schemes and methods hold the key to liberation. Moreover, it definitely calls into question the multitude of strategies dedicated to escaping this world into some conceptual enlightenment, but perhaps it’s time that should happen. We shall see, as more and more folks wake up and do as Dogen Zenji suggested, “Abandon enlightenment and walk freely”.


The fact is, humans have all sorts of experiences, which they in turn filter through their perceptual apparatus. From there, they superimpose a conditioned and conditional fantasy of interpretation onto each experience. In the process, they fabricate various theories, myths, and stories about it all, and perhaps other humans listen and agree. In fact, this is how religious sects are spawned and perpetuated.

However, for those who have been graced with a more mature and penetrating vision, rare as that is, what is revealed is that no intellectual theory or transcendental experience could possibly encompass the vast subtleties of the universal manifestation and its functioning. Reality is prior to, and utterly beyond the reach of, the mind that would attempt to grasp it and conform it to some human system of doctrines and dogmas.

As the Dzogchen Kunje Gyalpo Tantra states: “Self-arising wisdom, the essence of Dharmakaya, is not realized through effort, but conversely, by just remaining in the natural condition. It transcends all the aims of the practices, for that which is called “aim” is only a name: in reality “enlightenment” itself is only a name. Using the definition of “enlightenment” is a characteristic of the provisional teachings and not of the definitive ones.”

Consequently, where we are left is in a state of profound “not knowing”, which just happens to be the essential nature of our original innocence. By resting in that state of transparent awake awareness, rather than trying to analyze or speculate, the need to have it figured out and filed in memory is superseded by the astonishment of contemplating and appreciating the Mystery to the point that one’s hair stands on end at the very appearance of anything at all.

Furthermore, there is no end to the unfolding revelation, since the very nature of our Spirit, and its utter enjoyment, is infinite expansion in all directions, and far beyond what even the most imaginative human belief systems regarding Enlightenment (or even Reality) might propose.

In that process, however, Spirit does not become more “Spiritual”. There is no such thing as ascension. That which is already perfect and complete lacks nothing, and certainly does not need to become something else – something better, bigger, or brighter — to confirm itself. Our potential is infinite. As this becomes apparent, what remains is simply the recognition of the most loving potential contained in each moment now, and it is that ongoing discovery and its actualization which fulfills our deepest yearning as beloved expressions of Source.


“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.”

~Corinthians 13



See also:


About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, and our lazy dog, Amos, in a lovely little mountain town called Paradise, situated on the ridge of the Little Grand Canyon, in the Northern California Sierra Nevadas. I have 6 sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Poetry and Prosetry: Transliterations: Love Poems and Duets with Mazie: Autobiographical Fragments, Stories, and Fables: Thank You!
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25 Responses to The Myth of Enlightenment

  1. marcel says:

    “What Grace to fall, to fail completely”

    Speaking about Data, I’ve been watching and enjoying old star trek (next gen) dvd’s.
    It’s entertaining to see how easily one falls into self-inquiry with scripts like that.

    • Birthed of dark chromatine matter
      leaping from cis 1, 2 dimethylmethionine
      to trans 1, 3 phosphorylguanine,
      an electron seeking an M shell
      to convert into body double
      a blue positron
      colliding in hyperspace
      finding an inverted spinning tachyon
      for melting into taintless white light
      unmoving toward strange violet attractor and
      crystallized into timeless tetravalent
      carbon atom substrate frozen within
      large polyamine chain —
      a catecholamine transmitter
      traveling through a silver white axone
      towards an embracing multiramified dentrite
      exploding into a synaptic chamber
      streams hurtling through the
      wall of next membrane
      a deep accumulating dam,
      waves of low neural potentials
      exchanging secret sounds
      matrix of 1000101010101 digits
      N-dimensional bended Riemann strings
      building alpha numerical memory units
      becoming a ribosome,
      a laser like sensor witnessing
      elongated proteins forming
      pyramidal neural cell
      solar fusion state
      galactic resonance
      harmonic N-fields
      angelic hosts
      Supreme Mahamudra
      embryonic metamorph –
      the kitten within a cat:

      Om Tat Sat!

  2. marcel says:

    Read it like 5 times and everytime the stomach and jaw hurts from laughing
    Thanks for all your continuing service off and on this blog.

    Tat Tvam Asi!

  3. rahkyt says:

    I think this is why those ‘enlightened masters’ running around always have a little smile on their face. Because they know what they are doing and the word games they engage in with their students are really funny when you think about it from the higher perspective. The students are always so serious and earnest. And it’s all really a game.

    But one can’t really know that truly until one has mastered certain aspects of the game, experienced first-hand what lies outside the game, and returned to the game to witness the other players who haven’t gotten so far, still thinking the game is real.

    • Right, I remember sitting at an Adyashanti satsang back around 2002 (Adayashanti is now a well-recognized contemporary American spiritual teacher), and towards the end of the talk he was giving, he suddenly said, “Everything I say is a lie.” He didn’t elaborate, but went on to conclude his lecture, and nobody seemed to want to explore the comment. However, I pondered it for a while, and realized that he had just given us a clue to the undoing of the whole game of dependence on “spiritual authority”. By pointing us back to ourselves, he had done us a great favor, undermining the seekers’ uninspected reliance on the words of others to define their own way.


  4. ed says:

    This is my current view: Once a person completely and thoroughly understands that there is nothing to achieve and nothing that can “help” you be a better or more authentic person, and “you” drop all projects and ventures – then at that point, you are free.

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    Ch’en Hsiung says, “Manjushri once asked the Buddha, ‘What do you mean when you say not a single being is liberated?’ And the Buddha replied, ‘Our nature is ultimately pure and subject to neither rebirth nor nirvana. Thus, there are no beings to be liberated, and there is no nirvana to be attained. It is simply that all beings revert to their own nature.’” The Diamond Sutra – Red Pine

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “I tell you, there’s no Buddha, no Dharma, no practice, no enlightenment. Yet you go off like this on side roads, trying to find something. Blind fools! Will you put another head on top of the one you have? What is it you lack?

    Followers of the Way, I tell you there is no Dharma to be found outside. But students don’t understand me and immediately start looking inward for some explanation, sitting by the wall in meditation, pressing their tongues against the roof of their mouths, absolutely still, never moving, supposing this to be the Dharma of the buddhas taught by the patriarchs. What a mistake! If you take this unmoving, clean, and pure environment to be the right way, then you will be making ignorance the lord and master. A person of old said, “Bottomless, inky black is the deep pit, truly a place to be feared!” This is what he meant.

    But suppose you take motion to be the right way. Every plant and tree knows how to move back and forth, so does that mean they constitute the Way? To the degree that they move, it is due to the element air; to the degree that they do not move, it is to the element earth. Neither their moving nor their not moving comes from any nature innate in them. If you look toward the area of motion and try to grasp the truth there, it will take up its stand in the area of non-motion, and if you look toward non-motion and try to grasp it there, it will take up its stand in motion. It is like a fish hidden in a pond who now and then slaps the surface and leaps up.

    Followers of the Way, you lug your alms bag and rush off on side roads, looking for buddhas, looking for Dharma. Right now, all this dashing and searching you are doing, do you know what it is you are looking for? It is vibrantly alive, yet has no root or stem. You can’t gather it up; you can’t scatter it to the winds. The more you search for it, the farther away it gets. Don’t search for it and it’s right before your eyes; its miraculous sound always in your ears. But if you don’t have faith, you’ll spend your hundred years in wasted labor.

    You rush around frantically one place to another. What are you looking for, tramping till the soles of your feet are squashed flat? There is no Buddha to be sought, no Way to be carried out, no Dharma to be gained.

    Seeking outside for some Buddha possessing form, this hardly becomes you!If you wish to know your original mind, don’t try to join with it, don’t try to depart from it.”

    ~Lin Chi

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    “No ambition is spiritual. All ambitions are for the sake of the ‘I am’. If you want to make real progress you must give up all idea of personal attainment. The ambitions of the so-called Yogis are preposterous. A man’s desire for a woman is innocence itself compared to the lusting for an everlasting personal bliss. The mind is a cheat. The more pious it seems, the worse the betrayal.”

    ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

  8. Michelle Dodrill says:

    Thank you, Bob, for sharing your insights on this blog, which I was turned on to through Christopher Chase’s FB pages, so I have him to thank as well.

    “I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.” Groucho Marx

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    “Enlightenment cannot be attained through the thought processes of personal persona or thinking yourself to have ‘achieved’ something, for the concept of achievement comes from the thought processes of human persona. If you think you have ‘achieved’ enlightenment, then you in fact have not. When you have found enlightenment, you will actually never form the question, is this enlightenment? You will simply have no thought about it to question the state you are in.

    Enlightenment is not a thing which becomes apparent to one, or something which ‘clicks’ one fine morning. It is something which you become without you knowing you have become it, for you actually let go of the need or want to be that.

    There is no persona present of ‘I want to be enlightened’. As long as your desire exists to attain a thing called enlightenment, you will never experience it. You will simply exhibit characteristics of behaviour and mind which, in your own value structure, deem to be a form of enlightenment.

    Someone else far more wise than you will then come along and say, well that is not enlightenment. Enlightenment does not require persona; it does not want to be Self-achieved. It is a pure state of bliss, connectivity and spirit union which takes place when one gives of themselves without thought for themselves, for they no longer experience themselves as ‘selves’, only one with everything. In this state, there is no thought of ‘I am enlightened’, for there is no thought of ‘I’ ever arising.”


  10. rahkyt says:

    Thank you Bob … you continue to “enlighten”, bredren. Blessings.

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Always great to hear from you, Brother, and especially to get your blog posts from Sacred Space, truly insightful and compassionate!


      • rahkyt says:

        You are kind to say so. I find most recently that it is the simple, common issues that are rising most in my experience. In speaking about my own perceptions, I hope some other may also find clarity as well. Blessings to you and yours always.

      • Bob OHearn says:

        No doubt many do find clarity in your generous offerings, and will continue to do so.

        Bows of Gratitude

  11. Bob OHearn says:

    Terms such as ‘awakened’, ‘self-realized’ or ‘enlightened’ are merely figures of speech to enable us to talk about all this, but are not really a true or accurate way of expressing it. Absolutely speaking, there is no such thing as an enlightened person. A so-called ‘enlightened person’ is simply one who has seen through the common belief in a separate little mind or ego as an actually existing entity. An enlightened person is one who has awakened to the direct knowledge that all that really exists is the Self/God/being. There is, in the absolute sense, no such thing as a person, let alone an enlightened or unenlightened person. It’s like saying there are two types of unicorns: curly-haired unicorns and straight-haired unicorns.

    ~ Francis Bennett

    • ed says:

      There cannot be a effective & efficient term for a “State” that is an experience/non-experience. How can you convey the taste of an orange to someone when you don’t have an orange to give them? Words will not do. Also, there is the heavy baggage associated the words Enlightenment, Nirvana, Mukti and Kensho that point to some sort of super man/woman. To some degree, people disparage these terms basically because they have no experience themselves. Therefore, everyone is already a Buddha and the only thing you need do is to fully acknowledge that. This is both completely true and false at the same time. Practice diligently for 20, 30or 40 years and then you will know for sure whether there is anything to this stuff. Pictures of bread will not satisfy hunger and words cannot substitute for direct experience.

      • Bob OHearn says:

        Hi Ed, and thanks for your comments!

        You can practice diligently for 40 million lifetimes, but until your heart is opened in love, and you learn to live with full integrity, you will not be one step closer to liberation, regardless of any experiences you may enjoy, which are themselves merely modifications of consciousness, with no enduring reality other than what the conditioned mind may grant them in its fantasy of interpretation on perception.


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