Friday, November 09, 2007

Daily Dharma: The Enlightenment of the Buddha

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle comes from Robert Thurman, describing his understanding of the enlightenment of the Buddha.

The Enlightenment of the Buddha

The enlightenment of the Buddha was not primarily a religious discovery. It was not a mystical encounter with “God” or a god. It was not the reception of a divine mission to spread the “Truth” of “God” in the world. The Buddha's enlightenment was rather a human being's direct, exact, and comprehensive experience of the final nature and total structure of reality. It was the culmination for all time of the manifest ideals of any tradition of philosophical exploration or scientific investigation. “Buddha” is not a personal name; it is a title, meaning “awakened,” “enlightened,” and “evolved.” A Buddha's enlightenment is a perfect omniscience. A Buddha's mind is what theists have thought the mind of God would have to be like, totally knowing of every single detail of everything in an infinite universe, totally aware of everything--hence by definition inconceivable, incomprehensible to finite, ignorant, egocentric consciousness.

~Robert A.F. Thurman, Essential Tibetan Buddhism; from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.

Certainly, I am not the scholar that Thurman is, and I never will be. But my understanding of the Buddha's enlightenment does not involve "perfect omniscience" or God-like qualities of mind.

I can get behind the Buddha's enlightenment, otherwise I wouldn't be a Buddhist. But for me there is no equation with God in his insight into the nature of suffering and how to end suffering. The Buddha was most certainly released from the wheel of samsara, achieved non-dual consciousness, and maybe even developed some ability to see into others, but to ascribe perfect omniscience is to say that he became a God.

I understand that Thurman is coming from the Tibetan tradition, which is much more open to those types of declarations than is the Theravada tradition, but I'm not buying it.

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