13+1 definitive signs that show you are not enlightened
04 Jul

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meditation enlightenment ego

To know that you are enlightened or awake is easier today than ever. There are guides and even check-lists circulating the internet, that you can use conveniently and to your advantage, to compare yourself against. All you need to do is tick the boxes. Yet, even if, after reading about enlightenment, you have become enlightened at some point or another, it might as well worth comparing yourself against the below simple checks, just to be on the safe side of things.

How would you know then that you are, in fact, not quite enlightened yet, or not even close to it? For the average person it is very easy: just by being an average person grants you the definitive knowledge of not being enlightened yet (and probably never will be). If you are a more spiritual being, however, you might be interested to know, whether your enlightenment has not yet happened. The below check-list can help. You can also use it to score yourself against. The higher you score, the further from enlightenment you are still…

The symptoms

  1. You think you are enlightened

    The most obvious one. If you find yourself thinking about yourself this way, you can rest assured, you have not nearly grasped the true meaning of what it might mean to be enlightened at all. Your ego may tell you otherwise, but the presence of the very same ego is the surest sign that something is missing and that is enlightenment itself. If you have this point checked, you may as well check all the other 12. You are as far from your goal as you humanly can be, at least for the moment. If you do not understand why, read on…

  2. You talk about being enlightened and how you’ve become so

    Bragging has become quite a habit, in fact in social media culture, bragging is a must: Otherwise, people would never notice you. Do you find yourself telling others about your great experience of enlightenment? The sad news is, this is little less than bragging, and as such it has the prerequisite of an inflated ego. Yes, bragging, social media culture, and most aspects of contemporary life work very well in the favour of our egos. At the same time, they work really great against spirituality, true enlightenment, and the humility this all means. If you talk about being enlightened, rest assured, you are nowhere near it yet.

  3. You think yourself special because of your enlightenment

    Enlightenment is ought to make you someone special, isn’t it? Also, you should feel this really. After all, if you are really special, the least you can expect is to feel so.

    The problem is, everyone craves to be special in one way or another. We all want to feel how good we are and how much better than others. We need to prove ourselves constantly, this is well built into our society. Wanting to be special is nothing special after all. Our society is obsessed with success. Such “success worship” comes directly from the need to be special, or better than others. And being special, successful or better, all mean the same thing: Placing yourself directly above others, being, or feeling to be better than them.

    Truly enlightened people, on the other hand, show great humility and feel they owe mankind. Their selflessness and service are what sets them aside. Think about figures like Mother Theresa, or His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Would you agree they have been or are truly enlightened spirits? It is easy to spot the common theme of selflessness, humility and service. They have served or still serve mankind. They do not crave to be more than others. They do not try to be leaders. They do not strive for fame and riches. And most importantly: They never claim to be special: This is what makes them truly special.

    Have you noticed the word selflessness? The cessation of the ego is one sure sign of being on the path to enlightenment, yet feeling special in any way is a product of a strong and inflated ego. Do you see how it is impossible to feel special and be enlightened at the same time?

  4. You know more about enlightenment than an average Zen master

    Having read all the literature, traditional or modern, all religious texts, Sutras, Vedas, Viking Sagas, whatnot; memorizing all you’ve read, learning mantras by heart… this can all turn you into a great walking encyclopaedia. If you ask such a person anything about enlightenment, they will surely have a ready answer. Does knowing all about it grant they are enlightened? Not much more than knowing all about blue whales would turn you into a blue whale yourself.

    O, you say you are a blue whale? Well then, good luck in the deep blue ocean…

  5. You’ve paid hard cash for your enlightenment

    So you’ve spent some money. You might even enrol in the most exclusive (and of course, expensive) meditation programme known to man! Invested in books, Buddhist retreats, personal coaching, teaching and whatnot. You may even have been “initiated” or some other way directed towards the right path! Now you rightfully expect a good return on your investment. A few thousands dollars worth of knowledge might as well be enough to become enlightened. After all, that is how free market works.

    Here’s the bad news: Enlightenment does not have a price-tag. You cannot get closer to it with money. In fact, if you think you can really get anything with money, there are much more basic problems in the way of your enlightenment.

    The good news: Yes, this point is special, as there is good news. It is not all lost. All the money, all the investment you’ve made will have a massively great positive effect on your life, but more so, the time, you have spent learning. If this allowed you to learn e.g. meditation, all the better.

    The bottom line: If any teacher, guru or guide offers you enlightenment for money, or promises you will be able to reach it if you pay for their services, steer clear from those. But, if your guru, teacher or special person never promised such thing, still you expect it to happen, it is probably best to clarify things with them at the next opportune moment.

  6. You have a name for your enlightenment

    Price-tags are not the only labels we like to use. We label everything. We give things names, and use these names to distinguish one thing from another. And then, we foolishly mix up the name with its meaning and with the underlying object, subject or idea. But labels are just names and names alone are meaningless without content. The name you call something is not the thing you’ve labelled, only the label itself. It is easy to get mixed up in this, still, you should try to avoid it.

    Take the great philosophy of the teachings of the Buddha. We labelled this “Buddhism” and we immediately think about the name “Buddhism” to be the teachings themselves. Yet there is so much more to it, then what we call it.

    Just think about it this way: If you were to change the name from “Buddhism” to e.g. “Buddhateaching” and we would all agree to call it by that name, would we have changed the meaning? Or did we just swap labels? Then later, if everybody has forgotten what “Buddhism” used to mean that would only be a meaningless label to them, while they would continue on practising what they now call “Buddhateaching”, which in turn would be essentially the same thing “Buddhism” used to mean.

    (If this is difficult, that's because you say “Buddhateaching” still has the name of the Buddha in it, therefore the connexion is obvious, try calling it something that formerly held no meaning, like for example “Brooahfengler”, and try the thought experiment above with that.)

    So if you can name your enlightenment, you have labelled it. You call this label your enlightenment, which has little to do with the essence of being enlightened, it is just a meaningless name by itself.

  7. You are a part of some exclusive community, by the virtue of your enlightenment

    Or the other way around, you could probably attain enlightenment, because you are part of this community. This is quite common, people naturally organise into groups, after all, we are social creatures. But enlightenment being an essentially intimate experience, the problem with the above picture is its exclusivity. Such clubs, circles or communities thrive on the notion, that the members are somehow in a better position than non-members and it is a privileged position to be there.

    Without dwelling much on the idea, it is easy to see what sort of connexion this has with no. 3 above. Exclusivity means the members are special. And if they are, everything written under no. 3 will apply, including the total lack of enlightenment in any and all of them, including you. Ironically, if you think: Yes that community is this way off the track, but you are not, and are only there to either show them the true path or for any, even non-selfish reasons, this immediately means that you think yourself better than them, in which case again: no. 3 applies…

    It is a vicious circle, best never get caught in it.

  8. You are competitive (and not just about enlightenment)

    As we borrow the term “competitive spirituality” from JP Sears, we may as well build further upon the idea. JP talks about this in his video about how to be Ultra-Spiritual, which is in itself a great guide to clear up some of the questions discussed here and in a funny way. But you do not have to be necessarily competitive about your spiritualism (being “more spiritual” than others). Being competitive generally, in itself shows how far you are removed from the natural state of human mind, that is being collaborative.

    Humans evolved to be social beings and as such, we needed great skills of collaboration to survive. The individual could not exist without the group and vice versa. You know, the famous all for one, one for all. The idea of individualism has first emerged during the age of the ironically named “enlightenment” of the Renaissance, and have become increasingly more popular ever since. Add to it the artificially induced competitive spirit, which western societies so cherish and you have it all: all men for themselves. (Or just dog eat dog…) If you are competitive you have no Ubuntu. If you have no Ubuntu you must be far from enlightenment. (No, installing Linux will not suffice. I dare you to google Ubuntu but pay no attention to the Linux distro under the same name.) If you are competitive, your ego is fully grown, blocking enlightenment out of your view entirely.

  9. You use the word ‘I’ often

    It is not difficult to see the significance of this. Do you talk about yourself a lot? Do you know what that means? (Yes, ego again…)

  10. You are unconditionally happy, no matter what happens to you

    This is a somewhat more difficult-to-grasp concept. After all, what is wrong with being happy? Is that not what the whole enlightenment business is all about? The answers are nothing and no.

    There is nothing wrong with being happy or positive about life at all. In fact, if you are anywhere on your path to enlightenment, chances are that you are really happier than you would be otherwise. But enlightenment has nothing to do with being happy, it has much more to do with losing things: Your ego and your illusions. This latter is of the greater importance now:

    When you are constantly, unconditionally and absolutely happy in your life, about everything and anything that might happen to you or others, you are lying to yourself. It is denial: Denial of pain and agony, denial of the horrors that happen to your fellow humans, denial of hunger and greed, denial of the fact the world is not perfect. Half of our planet’s population is starving, children die of hunger and diseases. Mega-corporations destroy our environment and our lives for greed and profit. The oceans are dying. the rainforests are shrinking. New species disappear from the surface of the Earth forever, as a result of our own careless activity.

    If you imagine yourself a perfect reality and you live in it, you create an illusion. But as we know enlightenment to be little more than losing your illusions of what is untrue, how would replacing one illusion with another suffice? If you are in denial, if you lie to yourself, you are nowhere nearer to seeing the truth.

    Think about some truly enlightened beings, just refer back to no. 3. What do these people do? They serve. They help. In this situation, in this reality, the duty of not only every enlightened being but every person with a sense of humanity would be to help those who suffer, to end the madness, to lift those who have fallen! Not just those enlightened, but those who regard themselves as human beings have the same obligations towards each other and our home, our planet! Yet we think of ourselves, we close our eyes, we create our illusion of happiness and turn away. Is this really enlightenment? No! This is self-deception. If you are always and unconditionally happy, you simply fail to accept reality.

  11. You know exactly when and how you’ve become enlightened (and not afraid to talk about it)

    Apart from the obvious fallacy of being able to recognise the moment of enlightenment as a previously unenlightened being, as probably some all-encompassing spiritual experience would make you believe you’ve had, or simply by your expectations based on the account of someone else, this is closely related to the previously mentioned bragging and being too full of ego. ’Nuff said…

  12. You take yourself absolutely seriously and are aware of your own importance

    Self-importance is as far from enlightenment as the Earth is from Pluto: being all important is just another reflection of your ego. Better still, it is just another name or label on your ego. (Read above about labelling stuff). If your ego makes you feel important, or overly serious… (I believe I need not repeat myself here.)

  13. You just read this list, with the intention of finding out whether you were enlightened or not

    This is self-explanatory: If you were, you would need no lists…

And that's really it. The last one is so obvious, it had to be added as extra:

+1. You have been seriously offended by any of the above

Then you can be surer than ever that you are nowhere near the truth. Why? Apart from never having heard of an enlightened being to have ever been offended by anything (the whole idea is grotesque), this means that probably most, if not all of the above apply to you. Why? Otherwise, it would not offend you, that is why. If you read about the fallacies of others, you will have no knee-jerk reaction over the perceived injustice they have suffered (if yes, then you are among the top-most compassionate people who have ever lived on Earth. And if you are among the top-most of anything, please refer to no. 3, about feeling special).

Seriously though: No offence meant. Would any have been taken… well, your answer is above.

What if none of the above applies to you?

If you’ve managed to read this far without breaking anything, well done! You may find, none of that mentioned quite describes you. That would be truly exceptional (just careful with that feeling of being special). Does it mean that you are enlightened, or somewhere near it? Not necessarily. But it may indicate, that you are on the right track!

If you were offended…

I hear you say: “Who are you and what authority do you have to talk like that…etc, etc”. It is simply: I am nobody. Am I enlightened? Hardly so, probably even further from it than you are. But if you took offence, my friend, you need to get over it. Let go of your anger. Breathe it out. Consider learning meditation, it would do much good for your health. here’s a good book, you could try (o the shameless sales catch!). And try to learn from it.

What now?

Now that we’ve cleared up, how and why you are nowhere near enlightenment, it is time to get closer to it: You could start with practising selflessness: Just share this article with anyone and everyone you know. The social buttons at the bottom are your friends. Sharing is caring. 😉

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  • And finally: please share your thoughts, comment as much as you like, vent it all out on me, I’d love to read how you took this little list here.

About the author

Attila has been practising traditional meditation, QiGong and breathing techniques since early childhood. Not pretending to be a guru, or an enlightened being of any sort, his aim is to transmit what he has learned through these years, for everyone's benefit.

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