Does Achieving Enlightenment Have to be Hard?

In The Art of Being, Erich Fromm voices harsh criticisms of the moneyed guru types that amass wealth by selling pathways to spiritual enlightenment. He worries that this turns spirituality into a commodity-a concern that I share. But his argument also rests on the premise that achieving enlightenment must be difficult, and that these gurus only sell an immediate feeling of peace and well-being that is unsustainable. For Fromm, this does not lead to true enlightenment.

Immanuel Kant believed that enlightenment was not achievable for the individual, but that each person’s growth contributed to the eventual enlightenment of humanity as a whole.

Clearly achieving enlightenment is markedly difficult for nearly every human being on this earth. But my question for you tonight is, does it have to be? And, do the smaller moments of joy, peace and connectedness “count” or are they just mostly insignificant snippets of true enlightenment? What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “Does Achieving Enlightenment Have to be Hard?

  1. Might be what we think it is? Some people like the hero journey, it seems. In those cases, any kind of major effort is an added value. I don’t mean that sarcastically. It’s just one of the possible approaches. And – what’s enlightenment anyway? (Haven’t read all your posts on the subject yet 🙂 )

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    1. I agree. While many of us are prompted by tragic circumstances to begin our spiritual journeys, it is comforting to think that such difficulty is not necessary for future growth.

      Also, I was definitely thinking of Hume’s Is/Ought fallacy when I wrote this post, though I didn’t mention it. And then I came across your blog where you touch on some of the same ideas. I love it!

      And finally, I certainly would not propose to know what enlightenment is exactly. It might be the same for everyone or it might also be unique to each individual. That’s one reason this is all so fun. The mysteries are infinitely complex!

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  2. I love your question! I’m not so certain that enlightenment is difficult to achieve. I think many people receive glimpses into enlightenment, and spend the rest of their lives chasing that experience. Perhaps, the difficulty is in maintaining that enlightened state after the spiritual experience dwindles away and we are left with the same human life we had before? The Buddha, Jesus– both were enlightened according to their respective sacred texts. In both we see a post-enlightenment life spent in service of others. I think that’s telling… Enlightenment is not just an experience or ascent for the good of the self, but for the good of humankind. Looked at this way, I suspect that true enlightenment forces the enlightened out of themselves and into the world in a way that may not bring attention to themselves. There could be many enlightened people among us– maybe we just don’t recognize them as such?

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    1. I think you are making some really great points here. I wonder how many people work to their own detriment trying to hold on to, or recapture, a state that they perceive to be “enlightenment”. And, in doing so, manage to retreat so far into their own minds, that they fail to be in the world in a way that services humankind.

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      1. You worded the concept I was trying to expand on so much more eloquently than I;)
        But yes, I think true enlightenment should lead to connection to, not isolation from, the vast world of human ideas.

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