The Myth of Enlightenment

Here is a lovely new book, Remember Who You Are: Seven Stages on a Woman’s Journey of Spirit, by Linda Carroll (Conari Press, 2008). You can get a feel for her thoughtfulness in this meditation of hers on the myth of enlightenment.

The illusion of enlightenment–a place of permanent arrival or an ultimate state of being–is one of the most common perils we are likely to experience as we move along our path. Buddhist students are warned about becoming attached to enlightenment as a goal. Many women do have moments of transcendence and see beyond the veil. The trick is not to dwell on the vision but to appreciate it as a glimpse of the divine as we move on to the work of living.

Spirituality is not a goal; it is our essence. Depression, disillusionment, and doubt are a part of life. So are sorrow, anger, struggle for meaning, and difficulties with love. There is no escaping the human condition.

We are not human beings trying to be spiritual.
We are spiritual beings trying to be human.

–Jacqueline Small, teacher and writer

A good teacher can help. Yet here, too, we must tread carefully. Misdeeds by teachers and masters are not infrequent, and power can often be abused. A guide who has not explored her own dark side or who is not open to challenge is not a safe person for a student to trust. Be open to doubt and question authority.

When I was 11 years old, I asked a priest if the stories in the Bible were true. The room fell silent. Thinking I ought to explain, I continued, “I mean all those pagan babies in Africa. Will they really go to hell?” I was immediately removed from the classroom and given a terrifying description of what would await me in the hereafter should I doubt church teachings or ask such questions ever again.
Forty years later, as I stood on the banks of the Ganges River in India, a Sadhu with orange robes and a long beard approached me and asked if I wanted a blessing. Believing I need all the help I can get, I am usually open to gurus, amulets, and blessings of all kinds. When I said yes, the Sadhu removed a nasty-looking tin cup from under his robes and dipped it into the river. He told me that if I drank the water, it would make me strong and bring enlightenment.

I had spent three days looking at what was floating in those waters: Dead cows, piles of garbage, and even human corpses. I looked at the cup, the man, and the river, and I could not drink. Still, I couldn’t meet the Sadhu’s eyes when I refused. Somewhere deep inside, that authoritative voice from childhood still shamed me.


Luna Doula
Luna D5 years ago

Nice piece. Thank you Annie for sharing two pithy personal stories that will stay with me for a while... instead of pontificating about enlightenment.

Lisa Petrenko
Lisa B8 years ago

That is nice that you've found a connection to God through Christianity Rezi....but your total attachment to it, and judgement of everything outside of Christianity, shows that you are completely missing the point. Namaste.

Rezi D.
Past Member 8 years ago

2 annie b bond re: When I was 11 I asked if “all those pagan babies will really go to hell?” I was given a terrifying description of what would await me should I doubt church teachings or ask such questions ever again.

HOW TERRIBLE! for this reason, MOST atheists or followers of false religions that i personally know were raised/abused in rcc!

this xplains Y u gravitated 2 the false religion/philosophy of buddhism - because u were raised in the false religion of rcc

rcc is NOT christianity & christianity is NOT rcc

christianity is NOT religion/philosophy
christianity is a relationship w/GOD thru JESUS CHRIST (JC)

rcc is NOT the 1 TRUE CHURCH

the 1 TRUE CHURCH/body of JC is simply the list of *saved believers & GOD's got the list written in the book of life

4 the sake of ur eternal soul ask GOD:
-for a humble teachable heart
-for understanding as you read HIS *word - THEN READ IT AS IF UR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT because it does
-to lead you to HIS TRUE salvation
-to lead you to HIS TRUE followers

- that those who diligently seek HIM will find HIM
- HE is arewarder of those who do
- those who do will not be disappointed

as for all those pagan babies:
JESUS pointed to little children & said "of such is made the kingdom of heaven ... unless a man becomes like a child he cannot enter into heaven"

all babies who died are heaven bound

*B of good cheer
mark 16;16, revelation 2:10
true bible baptism is immersio

Mary J.
Mary J.9 years ago

What a beautiful book. I have ordered 11, for all my friends and bookclub. Everything is in it, its an Oprah winner for sure. The poetry selection is perfect. Thanks for letting us know. MaryJ

Rana C.
Rana C9 years ago

Good advice... we need to be able to separate the spiritual messages that are at the heart of most religions/ teachings from the politics and power- plays that characterize their outward expressions.