What is Buddhist Enlightenment?

ISBN : 9780190622596

Dale S. Wright
256 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2016
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What kind of person should I strive to be? What ideals should I pursue in my life? What would it mean for all of us to wake up to the realities and possibilities for human life? These questions, or versions of them, are commonly thought of as the essential building blocks of the human condition, and often serve as running motifs throughout our lives. Dale S. Wright argues that the question at the heart of them all is one most commonly associated with Buddhism: what is enlightenment? Any serious practitioner of human life, Buddhist or not, confronts the challenge of how to reach a different, improved-or enlightened-state of being, and fundamental to that quest is grappling with what enlightenment actually means. Why then, Wright asks, is this question not only avoided, but discouraged among Buddhists? There are many reasons for this unspoken prohibition. The simplest and perhaps most important is that pondering a distant goal is a waste of energy that would be much better applied to practice: quiet the flow of obsessive thinking, put yourself in a mindful state of presence, and let enlightenment take care of itself. However, the point of Buddhist practice is that it might eventuate in some form of awakening; in some groundbreaking transformation; in enlightenment. Wright contends that understanding the nature of the enlightenment that one seeks is the most important task of all, and that it can and should be in line with practice. Once practice is underway, he says, there should be an ongoing meditation on the ideal that is being strived for. Wright here offers a wide-ranging exploration of issues that have a bearing on the contemporary meaning of enlightenment. While taking as his point of departure an examination of what enlightenment has been in past Buddhist traditions, his historical considerations are subordinate to the question that our lives press upon us-what kinds of lives should we aspire to live here, now, and into the future?


Introduction: Why Ask What Enlightenment Is?

I. Contemporary Images of Enlightenment
1) The Bodhisattva's Practice of Enlightenment
2) The Awakening of Character as an Image of Contemporary Enlightenment
3) Secular Buddhism and the Religious Dimension of Enlightenment

II. The Moral Dimension of Enlightenment
4) Enlightenment and the Experience of Karma
5) Enlightenment and the Moral Dimension of Zen Training
6) Enlightenment and the Persistence of Human Fallibility
7) The Thought of Enlightenment and the Dilemma of Human Achievement

III. Language and the Experience of Enlightenment
8) Language in Zen Enlightenment
9) Enlightenment and the Practice of Meditative Reading
10) From the Thought of Enlightenment to the Event of Awakening

Conclusion: Ten Theses on Contemporary Enlightenment

About the author: 

Dale S. Wright is the Gamble Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and Professor of Asian Studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He writes and teaches courses in Buddhist Studies, the Philosophy of Religion, and Contemporary Religious Thought. Wright is the author of books, articles, and reviews, including Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism and The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character and the co-editor of a series of five books on Zen Buddhist history for Oxford University Press.

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