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Enlightenment in a secular context often means the "full comprehension of a situation", but in spiritual terms the word alludes to a spiritual revelation or deep insight into the meaning and purpose of all things, communication with or understanding of the mind of God, profound spiritual understanding or a fundamentally changed consciousness whereby everything is perceived as a unity.
Some scientists believe that during meditative states leading up to the subjective experience of enlightenment there are actual physical changes in the brain.
Enlightenment is used to translate the Pāli and Sanskrit word bodhi, meaning freedom from suffering, desire and ignorance (saṃsāra). Bodhi is also translated as "awakening" or "understanding". Nirvana and bodhi are nearly synonymous, and in experience may be the same. Tathāgata and Buddha-nature are related terms.
In Theravada Buddhism, enlightenment indicates a unique experience which wholly transforms the enlightened individual from their previous condition in samsara. The Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment, which may also be termed "Buddhahood".
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, anyone is capable of achieving enlightenment. In Japanese, kensho is the name for an enlightenment in which one realizes the non-duality of the observer and the observed, while satori is a flash of sudden understanding or awareness. These are experiences along the path to full enlightenment.
Mahayana Buddhists maintain that enlightenment has been "attained when all limitations have been removed from the mind and one's positive potential has been completely and perfectly realized. It is a state characterized by infinite compassion, wisdom and skill." It is a state where the ego and self have been transcended.
The Heart Sutra says that in truth there is no suffering and no enlightenment and this is also seen in the Diamond Sutra. Paradoxically, this truth is itself part of the enlightenment experience.
It has been claimed that Enlightenment cannot be described in language, expression or communication of any form.
In Jainism highest form of pure knowledge a soul can attain is called Kevala Jnana ( Sanskrit : केवलज्ञान )or Kevala Ṇāṇa (Prakrit : केवल णाण). which means “absolute or perfect” and Jñāna, which means "knowledge". Kevala is the state of isolation of the jīva from the ajīva attained through ascetic practices which burn off one's karmic residues, releasing one from bondage to the cycle of death and rebirth. Kevala Jñāna thus means infinite knowledge of self and non-self, attained by a soul after annihilation of the all ghātiyā karmas. The soul who has reached this stage achieves moksa or liberation at the end of his life span.
Mahavira is said to have practised rigorous austerities for 12 years before he attained enlightenment:
"During the thirteenth year, in the second month of summer, in the fourth fortnight, the light (fortnight) of Vaisakha, on its tenth day, when the shadow had turned towards the east and the first wake was over, on the day called Suvrata, in the Muhurta called Vigaya, outside of the town Grimbhikagrama on the bank of the river Rjupalika, not far from an old temple, in the field of the householder Samaga, under a Sal tree, when the moon was in conjunction with the asterism Uttara Phalguni, (the Venerable One) in a squatting position with joined heels, exposing himself to the heat of the sun, after fasting two and a half days without drinking water, being engaged in deep meditation, reached the highest knowledge and intuition, called Kevala, which is infinite, supreme, unobstructed, unimpeded, complete, and full. Kevala Jñāna is one of the five major events in life of a Tirthankara and is known as Jñāna Kalyanaka and celebrated by all gods. Mahavira’s Kaivalya was celebrated by the demi-gods, who constructed the Samosarana or a grand preaching assembly for him.
Hinduism also uses similar ideas, moksha being a representation of freedom from desire and other worldly passions. For Hindus, as for Buddhists and Jains, enlightenment ends the cycle of reincarnation. Souls are held to enter many different bodies through the course of their existence. In each of the lives they lead, they develop spiritually. The ultimate goal of this spiritual development is the liberation from the system of earthly suffering. The concept of spiritual enlightenment in Buddhism and Hinduism is related to, but distinct from, ideas such as salvation and transcendence associated with Christianity.
According to Mandukya Upanishad, "enlightenment is a state of freedom from the ignorance that causes suffering. There is no necessity to attain mere belief in God, but it is necessary to have profound knowledge of the truth which lies behind the concept of the word God. The idea is not to know God as a different being but to know one's own real self and its essential nature, which is the self of all. The preachings of religion make a person dependent on priests,temples, idols, blind faith and dogma and dependence on these is a habit of the lower mind. Such crutches may be useful at a certain stage for some people, but they do not lead one to ultimate truth. A dependent mind is not free, and without freedom, enlightenment is impossible. Religious dogmas are full of beliefs and myths that do not satisfy the human intellect and that bind believers to a narrow view of life and human potential. Such preachings instill more fear than love in the hearts of masses" reference: enlightenmnet without god.
According to Chafer, a systematic theologian, Christians who have experienced enlightenment are of two groups, those who have experienced true illuminism (biblical) and those who experienced false illuminism (not from the Holy Spirit).
One who, through direct communication with God, received a mystical understanding of God is considered to have been enlightened. Judaism and Islam have sects that focus on the attainment of enlightenment, Kabbalah and Sufism, respectively. In the Fourth Way teaching, enlightenment is the highest state of Man (humanity).
In New Age, enlightenment is obtained by direct infusion from the Sacred Rays. The Sacred Rays are continuous streams of energy, consciousness, love and data from the Godhead that are color coded into 12 different frequencies. This energy is above gamma rays and not observable by current science. Nevertheless, these Rays can supposedly be caught by the higher self's five different chakras, and then absorbed into the meditator's more physical bodies, and retained within the 7 lower chakras, or the seven churches of John's Revelation. There are 12 human chakras in this system, total.
There are also 12 petals on the heart chakra in this system. Specifically, these 12 petals are also designed to catch and hold the 12 sacred energies of enlightenment. The theory goes that as the energy from the 12 Sacred Rays accumulates in the chakras and petals, the higher-self will eventually become activated.
This, in turn, allows the enlightened individual to displace and transcend the selfish ego and quickly develop supernatural abilities, including the fruits and the gifts of the Spirit, perfect peace, the realization of the unity of all things, raise kundalini, and develop the siddhas of Hinduism.
In this method, enlightenment is not accomplished by intellectual insight, dogmatic beliefs, or physical works. It is more a product of dedicated meditation, surrender to Spirit and absorption of God's grace, as contained in the Sacred Rays. This long process ultimately transforms "the old man" into "the new man". It is also considered to be the "New Birth" by New Age Christians.