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?
What is Buddhist Enlightenment? by Dale S. Wright was published by Oxford University Press Inc in November 2016. The ISBN for What is Buddhist Enlightenment? is 9780190622596.