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Many seekers have posed the question: What is enlighten - ment? Enlightenment is like the ocean in the parable about a congregation of river fishes who once got together to discuss who had seen the ocean.

None of them could actually say they had seen the ocean. Then one fish said, “I think my great grandfather had seen the ocean!” A second fish said, “Yes, yes. I have heard about this.”

A third fish spoke up, “Yes, certainly, his greatgrandfather had seen the ocean.” So the fishes built a huge temple and made a statue of the great-grandfather of the first fish. They said, “He had seen the ocean. He had been connected with the ocean.”

Enlightenment cannot be talked about or understood second-hand. It is the very core of our being; it implies the experience of going into the core of our self and living our life from there.

We all come into this world gifted with innocence, but gradually, as we become more intelligent, we lose our innocence. We are born with silence, but as we grow up, we lose that silence and are filled with words. We live in our hearts, to begin with, but as time passes, we move into our heads.

Now the reversal of this journey is enlightenment. It is the journey from the head back to the heart, from words back to silence; it is the act of recovering our innocence despite the intelligence we have developed. Although it seems very simple, this is a great achievement. Knowledge should lead you to that beautiful point of being able to say “I don’t know.” The purpose of knowledge is ignorance. The completion of knowledge will lead you to amazement and wonder. It makes you fully aware of this existence. Mysteries are to be lived, not understood. One can live life so fully in its completeness, in its totality.

Enlightenment is that state of maturity, in which one’s self is unshakable by any circumstance. Come what may, nothing can rob you of your smile. You do not identify with limited boundaries; you feel that “all that exists in this universe belongs to me”. This is enlightenment.

The opposite of enlightenment - unenlightenment - is easy to define. It appears when you limit yourself by saying, “I belong to this particular place”, or “I am from that culture”.

It is rather like children saying, “My dad is better than your dad” or “My toy is better than your toy.” I think most people around the world are stuck in that mental age group. Only the toys have changed. Adults say, “My country is better than your country.” If one could take credit for all that exists throughout the ages and feel as though “all this belongs to me”, then that is a sign of maturity.

Memory can make you either sad or enlightened. Memory of events, or of trivial experiences will lead you into bondage. On the other hand, memory of yourself will liberate you. The ever changing relativity- however good or bad it may be- will bring you bondage. The unchanging relativity reminds you of yourself. Memory of past events and worries of the world will diminish in the infinity of the self.

You should be able to say, “All this is my wealth, because I belong to the Divine.” The Divine has manifested itself in the form of various kinds of knowledge, depending upon the circumstances of space and time. One becomes the knower of the whole universe and sees that “all the beautiful flowers are from my garden”.

The whole evolution of man is from being somebody to being nobody - and so, from being nobody to being everybody. Have you observed that young children have that sense of belonging, that oneness with other beings, that innocence?

As we grow up, we lose that innocence and become more cunning. Like the innocence of an ignorant person, the cunning of an intelligent person has no value.

Enlightenment is that rare combination of innocence and intelligence, a state that is reached after ignorance and cunning have been renounced. You must have the words to express your inner being; and at the same time, you must know the value of remaining silent.

In such a state, the mind is fully in the present moment. Whatever is necessary is revealed to you in a natural and spontaneous way. You have to simply sit and the song flows through you.


SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR The writer is an Indian yoga guru, a spiritual leader, founder of The Art of Living

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