What is enlightenment?

What exactly is enlightenment?
How does someone know they are enlightened?
Is there a temporary enlightenment when you are mindful?
Need some enlightened person to provide more details


Nibbana is described as “the unborn, unoriginated, uncreated,” meaning it is unconditioned, not subject to the cycles of samsara, permanent (Ud. 8.3). It is also opposite to samsara in that it is undiffuse, not charactised by worldly diffuseness (AN 8.30). It results from the extinction of the defilements (AN 10.60):

‘This is peaceful, this is sublime, namely, the stilling of all component things, the extinction of craving, cessation, Nibbana.’ This, Ananda, is called contemplation of cessation."

The extinction of craving is accomplished through the four stages of holiness, beginning with stream entry. The stream winner experiences nibbana temporarily. Whenever the mind releases attachments and is turned towards nibbana, then there is the experience of mental seclusion (from samsara), and this can occur in the stages before stream entry. Identifying and achieving that should be the goal of the beginner. Release is a dynamic that results from understanding that conditioned things bring suffering.


Can you please provide a reference(s) for this? It’s an interesting idea that I haven’t seen in the suttas I’ve read discussing the stages to awakening.


How does someone know all defilement are gone and they are enlightened and others know this person is enlightened, can we practically use this criteria to find a enlightened person today

I also read somewhere there is difference in Theravada and Zen traditions on enlightenment prior says it’s achieved at end of 8 fold path and later says momentary enlightenment is already there the sustaining of enlightenment takes effort and is achieved at end of the path

It’s a great question that should be asked again and again - even though a satisfactory answer can obviously not be given.

What are you willing to accept as an exact answer? Can you imagine any set of xyz criteria would give you an exact understanding what enlightenment is?

Positive answers you will get here (in terms of nibbana / asavas / ignorance / eightfold path / unconditioned …) don’t really explain anything, they will just introduce you to the Theravada discourse, the Pali Canon ‘slang’ if you will.

And as you already noted (positive) experience - like the absence of defilements - can’t be it either. There is no escaping that any verbal answer consists of words and any phenomenological experience is inherently deficient due to its experiential nature which refers to the validation by a fragmented subject.

To me at least the question is still essential, because when I realize that I have no real clue what I’m actually looking for that the mind can become really curious to go beyond the concepts.

To avoid misunderstandings, my argument doesn’t touch the value of meditation practice and Buddhist philosophy, I just don’t see how both by themselves really lead to ‘enlightenment’.


I highly recommend “The Island” by Ajahn Pasanno and Amaro which is an anthology answering exactly this question.

And if you’re interested in other material on this question, including a talk by Bhikkhu Bodhi and a series of lectures on Nibbāna, please feel free to check out my Google Drive folder on the subject.

:slightly_smiling_face: Happy studying!


This thread is under discussion category. This means it is important to try to pursue a discovery and discussion of the topic proposed having in mind early Buddhist texts. If a more open-ended and personal opinion-based conversation is intended then consider moving it to the Watercooler category.

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When you understand that defilements and ignorance cause suffering and they are overcome. The words are helpful pointers, with which you absolutely need to get to the experience. The words are the source of Right view, which is important for the development of insight.

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I see that the thread has migrated to the Watercooler. I feel sorry that somebody felt that personal opinions about enlightenment (presumably from people who like myself are unenlightened) would be more relevant than discovery and discussion via the early Buddhist texts.

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“My friend, although I have seen properly with right discernment, as it actually is present, that ‘The cessation of becoming is Unbinding,’ still I am not an arahant whose fermentations are ended. [2] It’s as if there were a well along a road in a desert, with neither rope nor water bucket. A man would come along overcome by heat, oppressed by the heat, exhausted, dehydrated, & thirsty. He would look into the well and would have knowledge of ‘water,’ but he would not dwell touching it with his body. [3] In the same way, although I have seen properly with right discernment, as it actually is present, that ‘The cessation of becoming is Unbinding,’ still I am not an arahant whose fermentations are ended.”—SN 12.68, Thanissaro


[Immediately after attaining the stream] Sariputta the wanderer went to Moggallana the wanderer. Moggallana the wanderer saw him coming from afar and, on seeing him, said, “Your faculties are bright, my friend; your complexion pure & clear. Could it be that you have attained the Deathless?”

“Yes, my friend, I have…”

— Mv I.23.5

For a beginner it is not necessary to find an enlightened monk to awaken to the truth, and reading where they have access to the best texts worldwide, is the most used form of study today, so the author must be trustworthy :

"When, on observing that the monk is purified with regard to qualities based on greed…hatred… delusion, he places conviction in him. With the arising of conviction, he visits him & grows close to him. Growing close to him, he lends ear. Lending ear, he hears the Dhamma. Hearing the Dhamma, he remembers it. Remembering it, he penetrates the meaning of those dhammas. Penetrating the meaning, he comes to an agreement through pondering those dhammas. There being an agreement through pondering those dhammas, desire arises. With the arising of desire, he becomes willing. Willing, he contemplates (lit: “weighs,” “compares”). Contemplating, he makes an exertion. Exerting himself, he both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with his body and sees by penetrating it with discernment.

“To this extent, Bharadvaja, there is an awakening to the truth. To this extent one awakens to the truth. I describe this as an awakening to the truth. But it is not yet the final attainment of the truth.”—MN 95


Removing cravings, aversion and ignorance, is the path to enlightenment. If you notice this within yourself, you haven’t reached enlightenment yet.

With metta,


There is a joke known to any parent who has travelled with their kids:
Are we there yet?

Oddly, that question also arises on the Noble Eightfold Path. And one answer is given quite tersely as:

They live without wishes in the present life, extinguished, cooled, experiencing bliss, having become holy in themselves.

But the deeper question you’re asking is, “How do I know I’m practicing as best I can?”

AN4.162 answers addresses this at a very high level by mapping out a landscape of practice:

“Mendicants, there are four ways of practice. What four?

Painful practice with slow insight,
painful practice with swift insight,
pleasant practice with slow insight, and
pleasant practice with swift insight.

As you continue your practice, you’ll find details to consider in depth such as the following checklist from DN33:

Five things that can’t be done. A mendicant with defilements ended can’t deliberately take the life of a living creature, take something with the intention to steal, have sex, tell a deliberate lie, or store up goods for their own enjoyment like they did as a lay person.


Thanks you, I am going through it, 362 pages will take lots of time lets see how it goes :slight_smile:


Buddhism gives a great emphasis on experience and direct experience, obtained with wisdom. Texts describe this topic very well though has it been experienced by someone or how someone knows others have experienced it is more meaningful

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Nice though this is very subjective, don’t know how we can see faculties, can we say all celebrities or the best bodies are enlightened or someone with good complexion and fair looking is


This is a great, though the man knows what water is, we don’t know what the water of enlightenment is thats why asking for.

I heard craving for enlightenment itself is a craving, so there should be absolutely know desire, cravings, aversion we have several times hours in days where mind is free from any thing like this is that enlightenment?