道明 Tao Enlightenment Part One #23
© Tao Enlightenment - bone structure of Daodejing #36 (English commas added).
Copyright ©2019 June 19, 2019
What, precisely, is enlightenment?
For thousands of years, western philosophies and ideologies have frequently used words like 'ethics', 'morals', 'virtue', and 'love', but never explained, and never will be able to explain, what the words are supposed to mean. Also frequently spoken, and also never known to have been explained, is the word 'enlightenment'.
Most translations of Daodejing repeatedly use the word 'enlightenment', but the English idea of 'enlightenment' does not appear to relate to the original text's words. The following are seven examples:
"The ancients who showed their skill in practicing the Tao did so, not to enlighten the people, but rather to make them simple and ignorant." (James Legge 1891)
"Can you become enlightened and penetrate everywhere without knowledge?... He who knows eternity is called enlightened... To know the eternal is to be enlightened... This is called double enlightenment... He who knows others is wise; He who knows himself is enlightened... Tao in enlightenment seems obscure... To know eternity is to attain enlightenment." (Ch'u Ta-Kao 1904)
"To know that law is to be enlightened... He who is enlightened by Tao seems wrapped in darkness.... In ancient times those who knew how to practice Tao did not use it to enlighten the people, but rather to keep them ignorant... He who knows others is clever, but he who knows himself is enlightened... Knowledge of the Unchanging means enlightenment" (Lionel Giles 1905)
"Perceive the germ, that is enlightenment... Employ the light; revert to this enlightenment." (Spurgeon Medhurst 1905)
"Knowing the eternal means enlightenment... Not self-displaying he is enlightened... Self-displayers are not enlightened... This is called applied enlightenment... One who knows others is clever, but one who knows himself is enlightened... The Reason--enlightened seem dark and black... Who beholds his smallness is called enlightened... Who uses Reason's light and returns home to its enlightenment does not surrender his person to perdition. This is called practicing the eternal.... To know the eternal is called enlightenment.... The ancients who were well versed in Reason did not thereby enlighten the people; they intended thereby to make them simple-hearted" (D.T. Suzuki & Paul Carus 1913)
"This is called concealment and enlightenment... Of Old, he who was active in Tao did not use it to make people enlightened, but to make them more kind." (Isabella Mears 1916)
"To know eternity is enlightenment... Not pushing himself forward he will become enlightened... He who knows others is intelligent; he who understands himself is enlightened... To recognize one's insignificance is called enlightenment... He who uses Tao's light returns to Tao's enlightenment and does not surrender his person to perdition. This is called practicing the eternal... To recognize the eternal is to know enlightenment.... In the olden days those who obeyed the spirit of Tao did not enlighten the people but kept them simple hearted." (Dwight Goddard 1919)
Although written many times, still the 'enlightenment' noun-word did not communicate meaning. What, precisely, does 'enlightenment' mean?
A popular story of Wonhyo (686 A.D.) has two versions of how he allegedly attained enlightenment... for brevity, the following has both stories intertwined into one.
After about twenty-five years of attempting to find enlightenment, at forty-four years old, and while walking from Korea to China, Wonhyo had hoped to attain 'enlightenment' while studying under an 'enlightened master'. As one variation of the story is told, during his walk he found a dry underground shelter during a heavy rain at night, and, as the second variation of the story is told, while in the dark he felt what he believed to be a gourd that had sweet-tasting water inside. He drank the water, went to sleep, and the next morning he discovered that the shelter was a burial chamber, and that the gourd had in fact been a human skull with dirty insect-infested water.
From the experience, the stories say that Wonhyo realized that he had merely imagined the burial chamber to have been a shelter, plus he had only imagined the skull to be a gourd, and had only imagined that the water tasted sweet... the experience allegedly enabled Wonhyo to attain 'instant enlightenment'. The stories say that Wonhyo's 'enlightenment' was of four...  he had reasoned that all phenomenon/dharma are one's own 'subjective' perceptions...  'dharma' does not exist outside of one's own mind...  'truth' is not a thing outside of one's self, but rather 'truth' is an inner 'subjective' realization... and  Wonhyo perceived the inner essence of all human minds.
Relative to the four claims within the stories of Wonhyo:
 Yes, it is correct that all things of Nature are perceived through the senses... one's consciousness, one's 'I', is as merely the observer of how the body interprets its own perceptions. The stories' claim of #1, simultaneously infers that Wonhyo must have previously been unaware of his own mind and senses, and that the simplistic mental act of cross-lighting the thoughts of mind and senses was itself an action-ingredient of enlightenment.
 The principles/laws/way of Nature are self-interpreted — most people believe in solids, while only a few individuals are born with the understanding and base of thought that all things are composed of other things — and, thus, one's own interpretation does not infer a perfect perception of what is real. Similar to #1, the stories imply that Wonhyo had previously believed that he could mentally perceive and mentally grasp what is real — he likely believed in solids — and, therefore, it is an act of 'enlightenment' for an individual to recognize firsthand that they cannot accurately grasp what is real.
 Yes, 'truth' is indeed an individual's own personal mental conviction/belief... to not already know that, suggests that the person is not able to rationalize what ought to have been obvious. However, the word 'truth' is itself an invented noun that has not yet been given a verb-based description, which renders the 'truth' word itself to be imaginary. If an individual cannot self-observe their own thoughts and feelings, then the individual cannot know what the word 'truth' implies, and everything the individual says about 'truth' must then be imaginary-false.
 The claim that an individual can somehow omnisciently know the 'inner essence' of all human minds, is a false claim. Humans are not identical, not the same, and not equal... humans do not think the same thoughts, nor process thoughts the same way, nor perceive life the same way, nor experience life the same way.
Individuals with healthy minds may make a mistake in life, perhaps mistakenly find shelter during a dark rainy night, and then discover in the morning that the shelter is a tomb, but, the healthy mind recognizes the mistake, cross-lights why the mistake was made, laughs at their own error, learns from the mistake, and the individuals then go on with life. The individuals might also extrapolate the firsthand experience, and form concepts of how some public beliefs might have originated from someone having accidentally formed conclusions based upon similar mistakes.
One individual's common every-day act of cross-lighting and extrapolation, is another person's 'sudden enlightenment' epiphany.
The stories portray Wonhyo to have been mentally impoverished...  he did not possess a conscious awareness of his sensory perceptions to be capable enough to consciously discern tombs, bones, gourds, and dirty water through the senses of smell, hearing, taste, and touch...  for the first time he had recognized the easy thought that 'dharma' is one's own choice of belief...  he had formed another contradictory belief of true-truth, that truth is one's own inner realization... and  he then formed yet another contradicting 'truth-belief' that he understood the inner essence of all humans' minds.
The authors' stories of Wonhyo are vacant of mental awareness, and the stories possess several strong absurdities of contradictions, but, the stories are useful as illustrations of the popular belief that the ability to extrapolate and to cross-light thoughts infers a 'superior' mind that is 'enlightened'.
To individuals who naturally self-think and extrapolate without directed effort, the stories of Wonhyo are unsettling within their inference that basic self-thinking is considered by some people to only be possible within mystical enlightenment.
Within some micro-cultures, it is normal-common for people to cross-light thoughts, normal-common to discern absurdities, and normal-common to extrapolate ideas to form new analyzed concepts... the normal-common manner of thinking does not result in a self-amazement, nor result in other people within the micro-cultures leaping to claim that the thoughts are of a mysterious enlightenment.
The word 'enlightenment' might never be defined, nor described, but, it will always be easy to observe what it is not. Part 2 gives examples.
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Updated June 19, 2019
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