Often enlightenment is taught as being some kind of experiential shift. But is this true? This post will attempt to explain and illustrate how it all works. So is enlightenment an experiential shift? Yes and no. The essential factor that changes occurs in the mind. Fundamentally the experience doesn’t change. What changes is the way experience is understood. Understanding is the key.
Let me illustrate this with an example:
eg. If you realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, and that he never existed, it will dramatically change the way you experience Christmas: the days before Christmas will feel different, it will feel different going to bed on Christmas eve, and it will be a different experience seeing your presents in the morning under the Christmas tree.
Now, is this an experiential shift?
Well it may seem that way, but actually what has happened is that a belief/thought that was once taken to be true is now seen to be false, and that understanding in turn has changed the way we experience the same set of events.
I italicise ‘same set of events’, as the raw sensory experience of life remains unchanged both before and after enlightenment. All that changes is understanding, and that change is at the level of the mind/thought. Understanding is the key.
To put it more simply perhaps, the experiential shift, if it occurs at all (it may not), is a symptom of right understanding, which is the essential underlying cause.
How this affects teaching enlightenment
Now, if a teacher who is genuinely enlightened does not understand what has happened to them, then they may teach that enlightenment is some kind of experiential shift. Because that’s how it can feel. This may happen if if they have not come to this realisation through a teaching such as Buddhism or Vedanta, both of which explicitly emphasise understanding on the level of the mind as being central, or if the teacher has not sufficiently analysed their experience well enough in order to teach it effectively. When the latter happens, the results is often a very vague teaching which is imprecise and difficult to understand. This reduces the effectiveness of the teaching.
This brings me to another point: just because someone is enlightened, doesn’t mean they can teach effectively. A comparable example is just because you can speak English, doesn’t mean you understand the grammar, syntax and other rules and techniques that are often very useful in teaching someone else English. This understanding of grammar, for example, greatly increases the efficiency of the teaching.
The same goes for enlightenment, the end of suffering: there are many beautiful techniques and lovely teachings that mean that the teaching works much more effectively at sharing this wonderful Understanding.