I had to write a reflection on enlightenment this week since I was lay leading at our Unitarian Universalist church. Here is what I wrote:
For me, enlightenment is a path, not a destination. I don't know about the concept of suddenly becoming "enlightened". I feel like enlightenment slowly comes upon you as you make your way through the world.
To me, Enlightenment are those moments when you are going along in real life and all of a sudden you realize your connectedness to the world around you and are one with all. Enlightenment is that moment when you have a heart of unconditional compassion and love. I think that this feeling is a moment of enlightenment. Some people are further along that path, when they have more moments like these.
When you know, truly, who you are, have deep unconditional love for self and others, and when you are aware of the interconnectedness of the whole world, you are enlightened. I think this takes a while. More for some of us than others.
These glimpses, for me, are far and few in-between. I know people who have them more often. I think our saints and gods had them all the time. When I've gone to see the Dalai Lama, I can feel that he lives in that place most of the time.
When people say they are on the path of enlightenment, I only have respect for their path. I think we are all on that path, eventually, whether in this lifetime or another. I don't know what is at the "end" of the path. I'm not sure that it matters. It's one of those things where I think the state of being is the reward. No knowledge is final.
Here is a quote from the Dhammapadra that I will always carry with me.
"The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let is spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings...
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become."
-From the Dhammapada (Sayings of the Buddha)