Enlightenment: Eastern vs Western
East-West dichotomy is unnecessary for things of knowledge and creative significance in this age of systems that transfer information at the other end at the same speed they transfer within.
Yet, they are different — A difference that has existed for thousands of years. Social-Economic-Political-Environmental factors are responsible. My objective here is not to go into the causes but to juxtapose one particular difference — in one particular word — ENLIGHTENMENT.
Let Eastern be represented by the philosophies of Buddhism and Hinduism and Western by Immanuel Kant.
Mr. Dalai Lama has the following definition:
Enlightenment is a state of freedom not only from the counter-productive emotions that drive the process of cyclic existence but also from the predisposition established in the mind by those afflictive emotions.
I have briefly described what he is talking about here:
Let me paste a section of it here:
- Ignorance leads to Conditioning activities
- Conditioning activities leads to Relinking Consciousness
- Relinking Consciousness leads to Mind and Matter
- Mind and Matter leads to Six Sphere of Senses
- Six Sphere of Senses leads to Contact
- Contact leads to feelings
- Feelings lead to Craving
- Craving leads to Grasping
- Grasping leads to Actions
- Actions leads to Birth
- Birth leads to decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, despair
He is talking about removal of ignorance through knowledge of this ‘truth’ and the four-noble truth and other such truth as decreed by the masters. Truths that will terminate the process above. Hence, freedom from everything therein.
HE further goes on to say:
…great enlightenment is a thorough purification of the sources of all problems and full comprehension of all that can be known.
Similarly, Paramhamsa Yogananda, a follower of Hindu Yoga system, Kriya, says the following:
When one is illumined, he sees himself as the one Spirit throbbing beneath all minds and bodies…Behind your body wave is the oceanic life of God; behind your mind is the great Divine Intelligence. Remember the vastness of your Spirit. Become transmuted and awakened in God.
What he is talking about is the unification of an individual with the One consciousness, the only thing there ever was, is and will be — Supreme Reality, God, Brahman.
They are also talking about removal of ignorance through knowledge of — this ‘God’ and the non-duality and other such truth as decreed by the masters which will remove the above process. Hence, illumination and establishment.
Immanuel Kant, our sole representative of the West describes Enlightenment as the following:
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.
What he is trying to say is that when we manage to use our own brain to determine and decide things independent of what others have said, told and taught, we become enlightened. It is about the ability to think freely.
I have emphasized the main point of the enlightenment — man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage — primarily in religious matters, because our rulers have no interest in playing the guardian to their subjects in the arts and sciences.
For Kant, enlightenment is all about freeing oneself, both individually and collectively from the bondage of teachings and control imposed by others and using one’s own reason.
The difference must be apparent by now.
I am not trying to suggest the concepts are similar. In fact, they mean completely different things. But the word used is the same.
One one hand, we have a system that says enlightenment is achieved when we manage to realize that which has been told by those who were/are superior to us. On the other hand, we have a system that says enlightenment is achieved when we manage to detach from that which has been told by those who were/are superior to us.