[Buddha-l] What is enlightenment?

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Tue May 10 20:31:22 MDT 2005

On Tue, 2005-05-10 at 20:38 -0400, Bernie Simon wrote:

> It seems to me that Buddhism has a clear and definite definition of 
> what enlightenment that is neither absurd or incoherent and I don't see 
> why we should abandon it in favor of Richard's definition as "whatever 
> Buddhists happen to approve of."

Actually, the only definition of enlightenment I have ever seen is "the
absence of delusion." And delusion is defined as thinking that what is
ugly is beautiful, what is impermanent is permanent, what is impure is
pure and what is not self is self. Beauty and ugliness are purely
subjective and really do amount to nothing but what one approves of. The
same is true of purity and impurity. It is impossible to be in error
about a subjective evaluation. That leaves the impermanent and not self.
Very few people I have ever know are mistaken about those things. This
leads me to conclude that hardly anybody is deluded. Therefore, everyone
is enlightened. And if that's the case, the word is pretty near
meaningless, since it excludes nothing. And therefore it is a good
candidate for being abandoned.

Face it, Bernie, the concept of delusion is dogma-driven. A person who
is deluded according to Buddhist lights is someone who does not accept
Buddhist dogmas. A person who is deluded by Catholic lights is someone
who does not accept Catholic dogmas.

> Even if false, why abandon what's been consistently asserted
> throughout the history of Buddhism? 

Would you apply that principle to EVERY doctrine that has been asserted
throughout history? Would you say "Even if it's false, why abandon the
theory of the four elements" and "Even though it's false, why abandon
the view that the earth rests on the back of a turtle," or "Even though
it's false, why abandon the doctrine that God created the world in seven

You see, Bernie, the fact that something is traditional means very
little to someone who is not afraid to ask whether things make sense. I
should think that a traditional Buddhist would be inclined to inquire
into everything traditional, since one of the traditional teachings is
that almost everyone is deluded. So if almost everyone is deluded, the
longer a tradition lasts, the better the odds that it is a consequence
of the collective delusion of the people who have held it.

> Is Richard going to redefine the Trinity as "three guys Christians think 
> are pretty cool?"

Being a Unitarian, I see no reason to redefine the trinity (or to spell
it with a capital letter). It's just a bloody absurd doctrine that no
rational person would accept, and no amount of redefining it will
improve the situation.

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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