It is often asked what the word ‘enlightenment’ means in Buddhism. Not many people would be qualified to give a secure answer, and much nonsense can be the result when anyone else attempts a reply. In the literature there is much talk of it and ten thousand clues as to what it is, but this is not something that be described so no decent answer can be expected.
But there are lots of helpful writings. I’m in the middle of reading Krishnamurti’s Notebook, the published version of a notebook Krishnamurti kept for seven months in 1961. He discusses and describes his states of mind over this period and in doing so gives us an unusually detailed insight into a process and state of mind that is normally invisible in the third-person. Exactly how far he is along the path at this stage only an enlightened person could judge, but clearly he is not aware of the world in an entirely mundane way.
As a metaphysician, or, at least, someone overly obsessed by it, I find it fascinating that his style means that often his psychological and meta-psychological comments shed light directly on formal logical and metaphysical issues. The relationship between psychology and metaphysics is immediate unless we refuse to allow it, and ‘original mind’ would be the solution for important problems in both disciplines. We see this from the previous post, where we find the Buddha talking about psychology yet solving a metaphysical problem in the process. (Link). Kant famously does the same when he reduces psychology to the study of a phenomenon that would be ‘not an instance of a category’, or beyond the categories of thought. The solution for a number of philosophical problems can be found in this notebook if we do the translation between the different ways of looking at things.
Woke up this morning, rather early, with a sense of mind that had penetrated into unknown depths. It was as though the mind itself was going into itself, deeply and widely and the journey seemed to have been without movement. And there was this experience of immensity in abundance, and a richness that was incorruptible.
It’s strange that though every experience, state, is utterly different, it is still the same movement; though it seems to change, it is still changeless.
Here we arrive at the argument between Parmenides and Heraclitus over whether change is real or whether all that is truly real is that which never changes. Zeno’s paradoxes may have been designed to show, on behalf of his master Parmenides, that our usual view of change and motion cannot be correct. As history shows, to reify change in metaphysics is to turn the subject into a snake-pit of impossible problems. Underneath change there must changelessness. As well as Appearance there must be Reality.
How easy it is to deceive oneself, to project desirable states which are actually experienced, especially when they are pleasure. There’s no illusion, no deception, when there’s no desire, conscious or unconscious, for any experience of any kind, when one is wholly indifferent to the coming and going of all experience, when one’s not asking for anything.
This addresses the problem of how to reduce the duality of experience-experiencer to a unified phenomenon or nondual ground-state. The Holy Grail is said to have the power to dissolve all distinctions. It would be the end of (the experience of) the experience-experiencer distinction. If we think of Nibbana as an experience then we have adopted a form of dualism and reified a distinction that would be conceptual according to my interpretation of Nagarjuna and the Buddha. The Christian doctrine of Divine Simplicity would state, it seems to me, that God’s experience, if we can make sense of this idea, would be identical with what He is.
Sitting in the car, beside a boisterous maintain stream and in the middle of green, rich meadows and a darkening sky, that incorruptible innocence was there, whose austerity was beauty. The brain was utterly quiet and it was touched by it.
The brain is nourished by reaction and experience; it lives on experience. But experience is always limiting and conditioning; memory is the machinery of action. Without experience, knowledge and memory, action is not possible but [that] such action is fragmentary, limited. Reason, organized thought, is always incomplete; idea, response of thought, is barren and belief is the refuge of thought. All experience only strengthens thought negatively or positively.
Experience is conditioned by experience, the past. Freedom is the emptying of the mind of experience. When the brain ceases to nourish itself through experience, memory and thought, when it dies to experiencing, then its activity is not self-centered. It then has its nourishment from elsewhere. It is this nourishment that makes the mind religious.
Perhaps this represents an explanation for a common effect of recreational drugs that damage or suppress normal brain functioning. My first contact with them, in 1969, was finding a newly acidified friend standing on the lawn at a party staring fixedly at a single blade of grass in his hand and muttering ‘wow, wow’. I thought he was nuts. William Blake would have understood.
Perhaps these entries shed some light on the question of whether enlightenment or Nibbana is an experience. They would have immediate implications for the relationship between Mind, Brain and Pristine Awareness. They imply that when David Chalmers concludes that scientific consciousness studies is missing an ingredient, without which the ‘hard’ problem cannot be solved or explained, he would be exactly correct. It would be missing the phenomenon that can be almost rigorously described as Everything. This phenomenon can only be studied in metaphysics and mysticism, theory and experiment.
One is aware of the increase of sensitivity of the brain; colour, shape, line, the total form of things have become more intense and extraordinarily alive. Shadows seem to have a life of their own, of greater depth and purity. It was a beautiful quiet evening; there was a breeze amongst the leaves and the aspen leaves were trembling and dancing. A tall straight stem of a plant, with a crown of white flowers, touched by faint pink, stood as a watcher by the mountain stream. The stream was golden in the setting sun and the woods were deep in silence; even the passing cars didn’t see to disturb them. The snow-covered mountains were deep in dark, heavy clouds and the meadows knew innocence.
The whole mind was far beyond all experience. And the meditator was silent.
Extracts from Krishnamurti’s Notebook, Harper Collins, (1976)
Endnote: I am always fearful that writing in this way will create the wrong impression. My proposal is always the same. Logic and reason, rational analysis, is capable of disentangling the World Knot. Enlightenment may bring with it little or no understanding of discursive metaphysics, and may not even bring literacy and numeracy. Nor is an understanding of discursive philosophy anything like enlightenment. An understanding of E=MC2 is not an understanding of mass and energy. The point of the post is to suggest that we would not have to be skilled practitioners in order to calculate the implications of Krishnamurti’s words for metaphysics. We would just have to spend some time studying metaphysics.
I think this time must always be worth it. Not every meditative practitioner will immediately discover evidence that they are not wasting their time, and it may take a commitment of some years to get beyond the superficial benefits of practice. Motivation is an issue. If we can work out that the Buddha’s teachings would be a solution for metaphysics, once they are backwards-engineered into a formal metaphysical theory, then this cannot be a bad thing.