Is Enlightenment Achievable?

Is Enlightenment Achievable?

via Psychology Today by Alan J Steinberg


  • In spiritual traditions, meditation is thought to lead to “enlightenment,” a state in which one permanently experiences calm, restful alertness.
  • Meditators who claim to have achieved enlightenment have distinct patterns of brain activity while awake and asleep, studies show.
  • Long-term meditators also have less activity in parts of the brain linked to rambling thoughts, distracting emotions, and fear.

In the late 1960s, college students around the world began meditating in search of enlightenment. What if, more than 50 years later, they are finding what they were looking for?

What is enlightenment? Why would those college students spend more than 50 years looking for it? Is there scientific evidence that at least some of them found it? Here are my thoughts.

What Is Enlightenment?

Buddhist tradition says that Siddhartha Gautama sat under the bodhi tree meditating, without getting up, for 49 days in search of enlightenment. When he arose, he was the enlightened Buddha Gautama. What is it that he found?

In 1901, a Canadian psychiatrist, Richard M. Bucke, published a book called Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind. Bucke gathered 36 examples of people he believed had attained enlightenment. Bucke identified the main characteristics of enlightenment as joyfulness, a profound connection with the universe, a sense of immortality, a deep satisfaction that they now had direct knowledge of life’s mysteries, and a sense of being in the light. If that’s what enlightenment is, then it seems reasonable for those college students to have spent more than 50 years trying to attain it.

When Siddhartha Gautama sat in meditation in search of enlightenment, what was he doing? Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement, says that the goal of meditation is to become aware of our own awareness or consciousness. Doing so, he said, we enter a distinct fourth state of consciousness, different from our ordinary waking, dreaming, and sleeping states of consciousness, but also one that is natural and normal for us to experience. He called this fourth state of consciousness “transcendental consciousness” (TC), or restful alertness, and said it was a direct experience of the all-pervading field of pure consciousness. Maharishi spoke of experiencing TC during twice-daily meditations as the basis of becoming enlightened. Philosopher Jonathan Shear argues that this fourth state of consciousness is the “mystical experience” that has been described throughout history and in every major culture.

Some have proposed that the “mystical experience” is equivalent to a hallucination caused by decreased blood flow to certain parts of the brain. Or could it be, as mystics have historically claimed, an actual experience of the one reality underlying the human experience and all of creation? Does the mystical experience make sense based on what modern science tells us about consciousness and its connection to our universe? It turns out that modern physics, whose foundation is quantum mechanics, views our universe exactly how mystics have been telling us it is for thousands of years.

In anarticle on quantum mechanics appearing in Scientific American, French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat summarized this issue by stating, “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with the facts established by experiment.” According to quantum mechanics, everything in our universe is inseparably, instantaneously, connected to everything else, without exception. That means your consciousness is connected to, or a part of, my consciousness, and to everything else. So, if mystics say they have had the experience of “being the universe,” or “being a part of the universe,” such an experience is not necessarily in conflict with science and could be real…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE