Unbundling “Enlightenment”

by Kelvin Chin, Life After Life Expert and Meditation Teacher

The idea of “Enlightenment” has been tossed around in spiritual and philosophical circles for the past 10,000 years on this planet. Let’s look at it, dissect it, and see if we can understand it more clearly. 

My goal in doing so is simple: To live life more fully now, in the present.

First of all, let’s clarify what we’re not talking about. If you use the term enlightenment to mean self-aware, understanding yourself more deeply or clearly, or “knowing yourself” — that is not how I’m using the term “enlightenment.” Those are all very practical and useful pursuits that I encourage.

I’m using the term in the way that most seekers use it. Most often it means some advanced state of consciousness, some state of awareness where the person has achieved some state of so-called perfection. “Acting in accordance with the laws of Nature,” “Right action” are terms that one often hears associated with it. Enlightenment implies a state of full self-awareness. The pinnacle of human evolutionary development.

It is often associated with Eastern religions and cultures, but thinking and belief in this concept is not isolated to Asia. There are many references to it in Western culture  in Greek philosophy, Judeo-Christian theology (“Heaven”), etc. 


Recently I saw in the Atlantic an article and video revealing the collapse of yet another cult. It posed the issue of why seemingly intelligent people would get fooled into dropping everything and following a self-proclaimed “enlightened” leader.

What is this perfection that these followers seek? Is it real? Does it even make sense?

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the idea of perfection means that there’s nowhere else to go after that. If you are perfect, there’s no need for improvement. That means you have plateaued out, you have reached a static state. No change after that. The end.

Most cultures and religions that have this belief in enlightenment justify that lack of continued growth, that state of “no more change,” by saying the individual then “merges” with something else. God, the Absolute (which, in their belief systems, doesn’t change), or some other similar concept.

Is that practical and useful?

Beyond the Imagination Horizon

I think the concept is neither practical nor useful. It creates an attitude in the believer that life is not really worth living until one has arrived at that future state — enlightenment. It pulls like an undercurrent of energy at the person’s thinking that constantly distracts them. That is not living in the present. They instead live in what I call “Beyond the Imagination Horizon.” They are always imagining what their life could be if they were enlightened, if they were perfect. Instead of living in the present and enjoying their life, they cannot stop thinking about living at some future point, beyond their imagination horizon. 

Does this mean you don’t have hopes and dreams? No, of course not. Having a vision of your future, what you would like to have, is healthy and normal. That is not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about something extreme.

They focus their entire life on something that is beyond their present grasp, sometimes selling all their worldly possessions, giving up relationships, and blindly following someone who promises perfection. 

Unethical Behavior

This idea of enlightenment “at all costs,” also encourages the life strategy of “the ends justify the means.” Or in the vernacular: “Anything goes.” Because the goal is perfection, the individual internally more easily persuades him/herself that any action is “in accordance with right action” if it somehow is related to the pursuit of perfection. Fallacious thinking that leads to people “bending the truth” to fit the circumstances because the lofty goal of enlightenment trumps all. Even lying becomes acceptable because it is “for the greater good.”

The real-life examples are many — see the history of the collapse of any cult.


This “Living in the Non-Present” also has a serious unintended consequence. It leads to continual suffering. The individual constantly is unhappy with their present situation, their present condition in life. They always seek something that is just beyond their grasp. This ensures an unhappy life. 

And does that idea of perfection even match people’s experience? 

People Like Yourselves

Does this idea of a non-changing experience of perfection or enlightenment match the experience of anyone you know, or even of yourself?

The experience of deep and profound connection within oneself can be a very real experience. But often the individuals who have this experience immediately jump to the interpretation that they are enlightened or are experiencing a divine experience of some sort. As I have written in other essays, I think this is misplaced. 

This misinterpretation understandably arises because that experience is so different from what I call the “supermarket aisle” state of the mind that we are so used to — that part of our mind that is constantly making decisions (“should I get peanut butter, chunky or smooth?”) — that we jump to interpreting that experience of deep inner connection as something “outside of ourselves.” As I’ve alluded to in other essays, this is due to our fascination and attachment to the “Conscious of XYZ” model of viewing life — we view life and assess life based on the specific, identifiable objects that we experience, the XYZ’s.

And, even when you do have that deep inner connection, you are still aware. You don’t blank out. (If you do blank out, I think it is because of some inner fears that because of self-regulation shut your mind down, not because of some “cosmic experience.”) And if you are still inwardly aware — the proverbial “light is still on inside” — then “somebody is still home.” You. You are still home. Your individuality is still intact, albeit in a form that is very much NOT like the “supermarket aisle” mind that you are so used to.

Now, let’s look at the personal experience of some of the well-known spiritual and philosophical figures in human history…

So, I’m warning you — the next section may get a little far out for you so if you believe that communications with “the other side” can and do occur, continue reading.

If you don’t, no problem. You can stop reading here because the above thinking should be enough to cause you to pause and reflect. And see if it makes sense to you. At least it should cause you to put on the brakes a bit if you have found yourself “blindly following” some spiritual teacher, perhaps even unintentionally.

If this essay has caused you to rethink your decision to blindly follow another’s beliefs, then its objective will have been met. It will have allowed you to realign yourself within yourself, so you can reclaim your own power over your life and enjoy it more fully now in the present.

What About Jesus, Jehovah, Shankara?

Jesus, Jehovah, John the Baptist, Shankara, Yogananda and Plato have all recently come to a similar conclusion — that enlightenment as a state of perfection is illusory and does not exist.

Here are the takeaways that they have shared:

None of them have merged with the Oneness, the Absolute, or with God. 

That we are Eternal minds. And as such, we always retain our individuality, our individual awareness of ourselves as we continue on, each in our unique life journeys. (See 30thNovember.com)

The Eternal Mind

Is life eternal? 

Many people believe that life is eternal. For example, some may think of eternal life as other lives continuing after one dies, i.e., life on the planet still continues after death — they may view themselves as non-eternal, but that life in the form of other people’s lives will continue after they die. To them, this is a form of eternal life, where there is still conservation of the energy that was their life, in the form of others who may come after them. 

Yet other people may believe that their own lives may continue on after death — the idea of an “afterlife” like heaven, or perhaps even reincarnation. In that latter belief system, there is a belief that the energy continues and the personality may also continue afterwards in yet a different physical form, a different body and a different lifetime.

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that: “Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.”

Essentially, it says that we are energy. Yes, we have bodies, but even our bodies are made up of energy — molecules, atoms, other small particles.

So, if our energy cannot be created or destroyed, perhaps we simply change form. We may debate, depending on what our belief system is, “what form” we change into. But, the First Law of Thermodynamics seems to indicate that energy is not lost — because no energy in the universe is gained or lost. It is the same energy that has always existed.

In any of those cases then, where the belief is that life is eternal, there can be no beginning or end. Because that is the very definition of “eternal.”

Final Thoughts

Since the First Law of Thermodynamics along with a growing number of people’s experience indicate that our minds (synonyms: soul, awareness, consciousness) are eternal, and that we can choose to (or not) come back in another lifetime as often or as many times as we like, the advice is to relax. There is plenty of time. Enjoy the journey. Stop trying to fit it all in. 

Dispense with all fears, including the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) — that many young people in the world have.

Live in the continual present because that is actually all we ever have. Stop living in the illusion beyond the imagination’s horizon. And enjoy our friendships and relationships with the knowledge that we can and will likely meet again.


Kelvin H. Chin is a Meditation Teacher, Life After Life Expert, and Author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death.” He learned to meditate at age 19, and has been teaching Turning Within and coaching others in their self-growth for 40 years. He helps people understand their life challenges through their individual belief systems, and helps them find their own solutions. His past life memories reach back many centuries, and he accesses those memories in his teaching and his coaching in the same way all coaches draw on their own available experiences for perspective and effective analogies. He can be reached at www.TurningWithin.org.