Somebody has made an entirely reasonable request of me -- to define the naturalistic Taoist/Daoist enlightenment that I talked about in "Daoist enlightenment: much ado about nothing," and indirectly claimed to be attaining in "How our non-easy-care yard enlightens me."
In a comment on the first-linked post, Appreciative Reader said:
What exactly is Daoist enlightenment, Brian? It may be no more than just a wild story with no basis in fact, but what exactly is the story?
Daoism is something I know little enough about. Mostly what I’ve read in your blog here.
I do know by now, I think, what enlightenment is supposed to be, per most major traditions. At least the outline of it. Also the means by which one seeks such enlightenment per these traditions. At least the outline of such means. (And I’m just talking about the “narratives” that those traditions follow, without going right now into the validity of such narratives.)
You’ve studied Daoism and written about it extensively enough, but as far as I remember you’ve never actually spelt this part of it clearly. Could you tell us now? (a) What exactly (in concrete terms) is Daoist enlightenment? (b) How exactly does one attain to it? And (c) What is the point of it, why do it?
You know, like Catholic Christian salvation is getting awoken after a long sleep by Jesus and his friends, and taken up to his palace in the skies, there to have the mother of all holidays. In perpetuity. And how you do this is by believing in Jesus, through “works” (like the Jesuits, for example), by kowtowing to the Church and its clergy, by paying a tenth of your income to fund the Pope’s palace, et cetera.
And why you do it, is because lolling on a cloud in heaven and listening to angels playing the lute is in every way preferable to the alternative, which is being roasted by the devil and being subjected to other similar torture. Like Theravadin Buddhist Nirvana is total cessation : and such cessation does not happen automatically on death, but is to be consciously sought by the eight-fold path and by methodically removing all desire and all identification with the self through a fairly structured process of meditation, et cetera.
And why you do it, is because this is the only way to escape suffering that otherwise has no end. Even Zen, vague though it is, shares that definition of Nirvana, and that basic rationale, and also does have a fairly structured means (non-processes/non-practices like Zazen and Koans, as well as the occasional blow to the head, et cetera) of approaching it.
What about Taoism?
Yikes. I have no idea what Taoist enlightenment is.
Like I said, I just really enjoy the notion that I'm enlightened, or at least well on the road to this state of being. It seems like a cool thing to be able to put on my bio. Achieved enlightenment at the age of 66.
Which, of course, happens to be my current age. So if I want my bio to have any credibility, I need to be able to defend my claim of impending, if not actual, Taoist enlightenment.
Fortunately, in the course of re-reading Raymond M. Smullyan's "The Tao is Silent," I came across some passages that indicate both what Taoist enlightenment is, thereby answering the commenter's question, and some pretty damn persuasive proof that I am Taoistically enlightened.
Also, that you might well be. Along with countless other people. Here's some of what Smullyan had to say on the subject.
As I see it, the completely unenlightened man believes there is such a thing as death and that death is tragic. The slightly more enlightened man believes there is an afterlife. The still more enlightened man believes there is no afterlife, but that death is not tragic.
The man more enlightened yet does not believe in death at all (except, of course, in the trivial biological sense), not does he necessarily believe in an afterlife. The next stage of enlightenment is to realize that life and death are both purely illusory; they have existence in the phenomenal but not in the noumenal world.
At a still higher stage, one realizes that all talk of life and death totally misses the mark.
...Thus, as I have said, at a certain high stage of enlightenment, one realizes that all thoughts of life and death are futile. Finally, the completely enlightened man even transcends the above realization, and simply ceases to think about life and death at all.
Therefore I say that the truly enlightened man hearing the tolling of a bell would simply enjoy the experience for what it is, and have no such foolish and "arty" thoughts about its connection with life and death.
In this respect he is like my dogs who, upon hearing a bell, would not in a million years have any such ridiculous idea as that it is "tolling their lives away." My attitude is very much like that of the poet Basho when he wrote:
Admirable is he, who when he
see lightning, does not say
"Life goes by like a flash"
I've seen a lot of lightning in my life. I'm pretty sure that I've never thought Life goes by like a flash after seeing a lightning strike. Ergo, I am enlightened.
Case closed! Enlightenment diploma, please!