What is enlightenment? Or, what happens after enlightenment? I have received these questions many times because I am interested in spirituality. I thought about these questions for a long time, and it took me a while to form an understanding. This collection of information and my experiences gave me insight to these very questions.
When I was in primary school, I saw Buddha’s smiling picture in one of the encyclopedias at home. Years following, I completely forgot what was written, but I never did forget the smiling face. I always gave thought to what affected me most about that picture. When I meet a Buddhist friend, I always ask what Buddha’s smiling face means to them. Mostly, they remember the moment Buddha reaches Nirvana or the way to Nirvana.
I compare these answers to the old movies of the fifties. The man and woman are crazy in love with each other; they remove all difficulties and finally reach each other, or get married, and the movie ends. Nobody knows what happens to them after that…I’ve kept busy with this question for a long time. How do they live together after they marry? What happens to Buddha after enlightenment? I think you can guess where my questions are going. If we reach Nirvana one day, how do we continue our life after that and what do our lives look like then?
First, let me make clear that I am not a fully enlightened person. I have a long way to go. I started meditation many years ago, and in the beginning, I had a hard time concentrating. Slowly, I did get better, and in the course of time, the goal of the meditation changed. It was not only to concentrate better, but also to expand my limited awareness. I started Yoga and learned Reiki with this understanding. As my perception of understanding the universe changed, I felt I had changed. My limitations melted away; I was at one with the universe. But for how long do you think I could keep this feeling of awareness?
The sense of unity that I felt during the meditation was partially lost after the meditation. The daily duties were still waiting for me. I still had to clean the house, wash the dirty dishes, do the laundry, go to work, earn some money, deal with my moody boss, and assist my husband when he needed me.
I understand life is not completely black or white and that there is a point where Nirvana starts. Every moment we live is actually Nirvana, and after Nirvana. Could it be that Buddha was laughing at this simple reality? To me, the enlightenment means understanding the importance of the moment and the sense that life is a collection of those precious moments.
After all the efforts I put into my own enlightenment, I understand that enlightenment is to know how precious life is. We should blend with life as much as we can. Life is a great balancing act, and we are enlightened as long as we keep this balance.
Today, I am not curious about what happens after Nirvana because I don’t see it as a separate thing from life. My intention is not to depreciate our daily problems, fear, sadness and grief in the world. They are still there and important; however, the enlightenment is how we react to them, how we encounter them. Without forgetting the sense of unity and Buddha’s smile, we should live our life in joy. Joy is in us, not only on our face, but in our smiling heart. Have a great and joyful life!