So, it seems as if the problem with existing enlightenment traditions is that there is too much going on. They are too complex as phenomena to be able to, at least for the untrained or inexperienced person, tease apart what is the experiential core, and what simply an accretion of ritual, symbolism, and social practice.
But here’s the thing about training or experience: It may not even help. I have had profound enlightenment experiences (I think). I have also been deeply steeped in one of the least dogmatic and mythological spiritual traditions one can possibly conceive of, Theravada buddhism, which is about as close to the bare bone of practice as one could get, after 2500 or so years. …And you know what? I’m still not sure how much one had to do with the other. I know, by the standards of the tradition, I may well be significantly accomplished. But what does that mean? My most profound experiences have had little to do (at least overtly) with the teachings I received or the practices I learned. The most profound experience I ever had, for instance, was brought about by sadness over a breakup and thinking about my cat, and the content of that experience only fits the canonical buddhist model if you squint at it rather intently. I’m sure the practices I was doing and the way I conceived of enlightenment at the time had something to do with it, but I’m just, as I said, not sure exactly what, and, at a certain point, that started to stunt my progress. I wasn’t sure, after a while, what I was doing, or why.
Let me be clear: even at a highly accomplished level, I still don’t know how to disentangle my first hand experience from the social realities of the traditions I have been a part of, which makes me unsure of what exactly my experiences even amount to. So what exactly is one to do to correct this state of unclarity? As I said, it seems like we need some outside metric to evaluate what we are doing.
So let’s try this: what is the simplest, most mundane, most non-conceptual example of something we could call enlightenment?
Let’s do a little exercise. Look at this:
How long does it take you to see the circles?
I’ll assume you’ve never encountered this particular ‘illusion’ before. If you have, go find one that you haven’t tried before.
What, as precisely as you can describe it, is it like for you when you see through the illusion for the first time?
A very mundane ‘enlightenment’, if it is at all…banal, even. But is there something there that might point us in the right direction?
Let’s assume there is.