Questions about Buddhist 'Enlightenment'

I have three questions regarding 'Enlightenment/Nirvana" in Buddhist tradition.

  1. I have heard that those who receive enlightenment become omniscient. So does this mean that all the gurus living today have a perfect knowledge of things like quantum physics, rocket science, microbiology, brain surgery, etc? Can they tell the future and have perfect knowledge of every single thing in the past?

  2. Can one achieve enlightenment without meditation? For example, somebody would just be walking down the street and it would just “hit” them.

  3. Can one in a state of enlightenment ever fall out of enlightenment and back to their “desires”?

Be a little more specific - what do you mean by guru? Are you referencing Tibetan Buddhism? The Japanese sects? Chinese Buddhism? These things matter a lot.

Most of the Japanese sects for instance believe we live an age of Mappo, which bears some resemblance to the Hindu concept of lviing in the age of Kali Yuga

for all intents and purposes - Enlightenment is “out of reach” until Maitreya Buddha shows up. Mind you, the Zen/Seon/Chan/Dhyana school(s) reject this notion, while the Pureland Buddhists have it as a built in given - which is why they have faith in Amithabha Buddha and keep chanting that mantra of theirs - in the hopes that they end up in his Pureland on their next incarnation so they can work on achieving Buddhahood in an environment where it is possible.

  1. Can one achieve enlightenment without meditation? For example, somebody would just be walking down the street and it would just “hit” them.

I’m not expert - i just have a lot of professional contacts - but i’ve never seen a Buddhist sect without some form of meditation. It seems like a built-in given.

  1. Can one in a state of enlightenment ever fall out of enlightenment and back to their “desires”?

Again - what do you mean but Enlightenment?

Do you mean reaching Buddhahood? - Then what you speak about according to them is Impossible.

Do you mean becoming an Arhant? - Yes, apparently Arhants can slip up.

Then you won’t find any - not amongst the mainstream Buddhist sects (you know the ones with the liturgical tradition/philosophical background/etc).

The Theravada/Southern Buddhism tradition never had any monks claim enlightenment in that full sense of which you speak of.

The Northern/Mahayana traditions do…but those people usually tend to be the Founders of the individual traditions.

Its Questionable regarding the Tibetans… the Tulku system indicates that they must believe that their teachers must have reached some form of higher consciousness - but no one alive ever claims to be on par with say Padmasambhava.

You mention the different traditions.

What is the “Catholic” equivalent of Buddhism? What I mean is which branch was the first and apostolic branch of Buddhism where the other ones branched off from?

Why do Catholics always assume the trajectory of religion’s development follows their own history? :shrug:

Its like the time i saw a comment from someone asking for Judaism and Islam’s Magisterium…?

Even your statement is a loaded question Ben Sinner - the Orthodox would have a bone to pick with you over who broke from whom.

While you have…enough Protestants on these boards who buy into the Bart Ehrman’s thesis that the Orthodox-Catholic/Early Church were essentially just the most successful branch that 'won out" during the early phases of Christianity.

The oldest living tradition of Buddhism is the Theravada (the survivor of one of 13 Nikayas) - but the Mahayana sects claim descent from one of the other Nikayas…

I can’t tell you which one is “True” Buddhism - i can only state Classical interpretations of it and the outgrowths from those interpretations.

It would be nice if you had questions about Catholic doctrine, saints, liturgy, or something. Unless as a Catholic you feel it is important to spend all your time researching comparative religions.

What does your spiritual director tell you about Buddhism?

Buddhist enlightenment means insight into the nature of reality. That liberates one from the attachments that cause suffering but does not have to mean omniscience.

Fortunately for Christians, we believe that suffering has redemptive value.

Ben Sinner, I would like to suggest that you read St. John Paul the Great’s apostolic letter, Salvifici doloris. It really is a masterpiece, and proclaims the dignity of the human person through the acceptance and embrace of human suffering.

I think thought that in the Buddhist view suffering is our response to life’s difficulties not the difficulties themselves. So one would still endure all that a Christian would endure but would “overcome the world” and suffer less because of being more accepting od what cannot be changed.

Christians call our response to suffering “virtue”.

That’s how its always been expressed to me whenever I question them on the matter.

“Them” being literally every sect i’ve ever encountered.

An underlying theme regardless of their particular beliefs, is that humans collectively look at reality incorrectly.

That incorrect outlook creates suffering upon contact with things/situations in the world.

If i had to make a rough corollary - the beginning steps to Buddhism is remincient of the “Let Go, Let God” statements I tend to see amongst the Christians.

Or that prayer you folks say to St. Francis…which escapes my mind at this time.

You mean “Let me be an instrument of your peace” commonly ascribed to St Francis but actually written much latter?

“Incorrect outlook” or “ignorance” which to me also sounds like St. Paul’s “walking in darkness”.

Everything good in Buddhism can be found in Christianity. Buddhism has some false elements, and none of these can be found in Catholicism.

You have heard incorrectly. Someone who is enlightened has attained nirvana, that is all.

  1. Can one achieve enlightenment without meditation? For example, somebody would just be walking down the street and it would just “hit” them.

In theory yes. In practice extremely rare, and it may only mean that they did the meditation in a previous life.

  1. Can one in a state of enlightenment ever fall out of enlightenment and back to their “desires”?

No. It is a one way process. A Bodhisattva may delay enlightenment when on the threshold in order to remain in the world to help other beings.


When one experiences Nirvana, are they always feeling a sense of “oneness” with the universe, or is that only a misconception about Nirvana? (I’m talking about literally, physically, feeling “at one with the universe”)

I wouldn’t know since I have not attained nirvana. Those who have are generally quiet on the subject. I suspect that enlightenment is probably not what the unenlightened expect it to be.

Some people come to Zen expecting that Enlightenment will be the Ultimate Peak Experience. The Mother of All Peak Experiences. But real enlightenment is the most ordinary of the ordinary. Once I had an amazing vision. I saw myself transported through time and space. Millions, no, billions, trillions, Godzillions of years passed. Not figuratively, but literally. Whizzed by. I found myself at the very rim of time and space, a vast giant being composed of the living minds and bodies of every thing that ever was. It was an incredibly moving experience. Exhilarating. I was high for weeks. Finally I told Nishijima Sensei about it. He said it was nonsense. Just my imagination. I can’t tell you how that made me feel. Imagination? This was as real an experience as any I’ve ever had. I just about cried. Later on that day I was eating a tangerine. I noticed how incredibly lovely a thing it was. So delicate. So amazingly orange. So very tasty. So I told Nishijima about that. That experience, he said, was enlightenment.

Source: Zen is Boring, Brad Warner.


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