WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT? - Enlightenment: Fully Awakened Pristine Mind - Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness (2016)

Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness (2016)


Enlightenment: Fully Awakened Pristine Mind

You can search throughout time and space and you will not find enlightenment.

Enlightenment is the innermost nature of mind.

Do not seek enlightenment anywhere else.

Essence of Secrets Tantra


MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE that enlightenment is mystical, that it just happens mysteriously without any logic behind it. Some people think it is an unattainable state, reserved only for someone with the rarest qualities. Others think enlightenment is simply an exceptionally good mood or a state in which our mind has no thoughts. Some believe it is a special, sudden experience that overtakes us, some kind of altered state, like the sudden change that one might feel from taking mind-altering drugs. Indeed, there are so many different ideas about enlightenment that it is very important that we understand just what enlightenment really is.


Without the necessary conditions, enlightenment cannot happen any more than flowers can grow in a hostile environment. The right conditions for flowers are not present in a dark, frozen cave. Many elements are needed for a flower to grow, such as soil, light, water, and the right temperature. Everything in our world arises only under the right conditions and the required environment.

In the same way, when we talk about attaining enlightenment, we are talking about the right conditions and environment for enlightenment to blossom and grow.

What conditions are needed for enlightenment? We need to have the right state of mind: open, compassionate, positive, and beautiful. Primarily, we need the three principles: realization, meditation, and a good heart. These conditions generate a different and extraordinary environment in our mind, an environment that supports enlightenment. Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava says:

If you cultivate positive attitudes and circumstances,

It helps your mind to naturally go in the right direction.

If your mind goes in the right direction,

It helps to improve and increase your meditation experience.

If you develop the right meditation experience,

It helps you to quickly attain perfect enlightenment.

Although we often say that we “attain” or “achieve” enlightenment, it is not actually something that occurs off in the distance or sometime in the distant future. If our mind is pristine, nirvana is here, right now, in this very moment. If our mind is polluted, samsara is here, right now, in this moment. Everything happens in this moment.

Our state of mind determines our reality, right now, in this moment. Therefore, the most important thing is to have the right mind-set right now in this moment. The only thing standing between us and enlightenment right now is our mental events. That’s it. When our mental events are no longer present, enlightenment becomes naturally evident, whether we seek it or not. Enlightenment is essentially the complete, permanent absence of distorted mind, thus letting us experience the deep and abiding inner state that lies beneath mental events. Our mind becomes completely pristine without any negative thoughts or emotions that cause suffering. Our mind becomes completely healthy and perfect. This is the true meaning of enlightenment.


In the previous parts of this book, we discussed realization and meditation—how to realize Pristine Mind and how to meditate in Pristine Mind. We explained the techniques necessary to realize that the mind is pristine, what that experience or realization feels like, and then how to practice meditation based on that experience. We studied what factors are most important, and what methods we should use. We also explained the critical role played by cultivating a good heart.

If we realize and abide in Pristine Mind, we are doing meditation. Once we are able to do that for longer and longer periods of time and are able to maintain and expand our good heart, then our experience transforms, and certain changes take place in our mind.

Those changes are the process of awakening our enlightened nature. In fact, transformation, liberation, and awakening all occur from remaining in Pristine Mind. With that foundation established, it is time to explain the enlightenment that occurs based on this practice.

The clearest, most direct presentation of enlightenment that I know is Dzogchen master Mipham Rinpoche’s description in his extraordinary Dzogchen text The Spacious Path of Bliss. In this text, Mipham Rinpoche demystifies enlightenment and the path to enlightenment. His explanation comes from personal experience, and he presents it in a very straightforward way. It is not written academically or based on intellectual understanding. It is universal and timeless, so everyone can know it and benefit from it. It makes the understanding of enlightenment accessible to all of us.

Various texts talk about the stages of enlightenment, but many of them are obscure and difficult to understand. In contrast, The Spacious Path of Bliss is direct, experiential, and yet profound. I will describe it to you as I understand it. What follows now is based on this great teaching of Mipham Rinpoche.

There are four different stages that occur when we awaken to our Pristine Mind. These make up the path to enlightenment. Whether or not someone is enlightened has to do with whether or not they have progressed through these four stages. In describing them, Mipham Rinpoche clarifies elements of enlightenment that often confuse people into thinking enlightenment is mysterious or mystical.

Sometimes people may find it difficult to understand enlightenment because they have no reference point for what enlightenment truly is. Understanding these four stages helps us to clarify where we are on our path of enlightenment. If someone claims to have an education, we can verify their credentials at the college or university that they attended. If they claim to be a lawyer, we can confirm whether that is true by checking their records at the state bar association. While enlightenment has no certification board, the validity of a person’s level of enlightenment is apparent based on the signs of these four stages that manifest, as I will describe below. It is not mysterious. It is definable and describable.

Among other signs of progress in attaining enlightenment, two key changes, or “awakenings,” occur in becoming enlightened. First, negative tendencies, thoughts, and emotions lose strength. Second, the experience of Pristine Mind grows, and there is greater access to it. If these two things are happening, then enlightenment is happening.

The more clouds dissipate, the more we see the blue sky beyond them. In the same way, the more our ordinary thoughts and emotions fade away, the more we can access Pristine Mind. The more our mental events dissolve, the more our Pristine Mind awakens. Gradually, thoughts, emotions, and other mental events can no longer control us. We have complete freedom to access the wonderful experience of our Pristine Mind. If that capacity is unfolding within us, then enlightenment is emerging from within us. If these two things are not happening inside us, then enlightenment is not occurring.

Although we may talk about a path to attaining enlightenment, actually enlightenment is not just a single end point, but a process of growth. There is a gradual awakening of our enlightened nature. Completely perfect enlightenment is merely the end result of that process of gradual improvement.

We will now turn to the four stages of enlightenment described by Mipham Rinpoche.