What is Enlightenment?

February 7, 2021
Upaya Zen Center

A day-long immersion into the idea of “enlightenment” with philosophers and teachers from the Zen and Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Instructors: Roshi Joan Halifax, Roshi Enkyo O’Hara, Evan Thompson, John Dunne, Anne Klein, and Michael Sheehy.

No idea is as ubiquitous across Buddhist traditions as the possibility of enlightenment. To be a buddha is to have awakened or be enlightened. Yet there is little consensus about what enlightenment is. Are there neural correlates of enlightenment in the brain? Is enlightenment fostered by social democracy? Or is enlightenment a myth propagated to keep seekers busy along their path? In dialogue about the immanent and paradoxical, embodied and psychological, social and personal – this daylong immersion brings leading Buddhist contemplatives, scholars, and philosophers together to explore the meaning of enlightenment. 

Abstract: My presentation is framed around similes of illusion along the spectrum of enlightenment. Drawing from the 14th c. Tibetan author Longchen Rabjam’s work, Finding Rest in Illusion, we tease out the distinction that he makes between the illusion of perverse cognition (log rtog sgyu ma) and the illusion of the perfectly pure (yang dag sgyu ma). This leads us up and down the slippery slope of the dichotomies – buddhas and non-buddhas, samsara and nirvana, ordinary mind and the pristine awareness of buddhahood. To keep it experiential, we discuss excerpts from my translation of Longchenpa’s brief Dzokchen meditation instruction, Guidance on Being at Ease with Illusion (Sgyu ma ngal gso’i don khrid). Ideas in philosophy and the cognitive sciences will be brought into dialogue with the Tibetan Buddhist materials.

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