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What is Spiritual Enlightenment? Explained by 5 Spiritual Leaders

If you are on the path of spiritual enlightenment, you may be finding that it’s an elusive concept. How do you know when you’re enlightened? Is there even such a thing?

The fact is, spiritual enlightenment is not a destination, but the journey itself.

We can never arrive at enlightenment, only practice it every day. The more we are able to act from a place of love, understanding, and non-judgment, and release all expectations of life the more we are in line with the principles of spiritual enlightenment.

Woman meditating knows what is spiritual enlightenment.

What is Spiritual Enlightenment?

Simply, spiritual enlightenment is awareness of the world (mindfulness) and a release of all pain and suffering. You no longer feel fear or aim to protect yourself. When confronted with something that would provoke negative emotions, instead, enlightened people only feel love and understanding.

Think of spiritually enlightened people of history like Jesus. Regardless of whether you are Christian or not, you must admit that his spiritual enlightenment was one of the highest of those ever on earth. On the day of his death Jesus forewent protecting himself, released all emotions of pain, frustration, and anger, and offered compassion and forgiveness to those with him (the two others who were crucified with him) who were suffering.

In fact, spiritual awakening is inextricably linked with suffering. Sister True Dedication (pupil of Thich Nhat Hanh) says:

“We need to see the suffering, the truth, in order to get the awakening. There’s a deep connection between the two.”

This is the essence of spiritual enlightenment.

So let’s look at some spiritual leaders’ definitions of spiritual enlightenment, and some concrete qualities you can notice every day to determine if you’re there or not.

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What is the opposite of Spiritual Enlightenment?

Sometimes, finding the opposite of a thing can help us define the thing itself.

On a linear scale, with spiritual enlightenment at one end, what is at the other end?

It’s behavior that seeks to protect yourself at the expense of other people.

If we think about any “evil” person—or in the Bible, anti-Christ—they were surrounded by pain, suffering, and intense destruction.

All of these, from pain, suffering, destruction, fear, protection, understanding, love, gratitude, and compassion are ALL a part of the human experience. Spiritual enlightenment is the release of all emotions that aren’t on the enlightened side of the spectrum.

Spiritual Leaders on Spiritual Enlightenment

Read on to discover what these spiritual leaders have to say about spiritual enlightenment:

  • The Dalai Lama
  • The Buddha
  • Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Deepak Chopra
  • Pema Chödrön

The Dalai Lama

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To the Dalai Lama, spiritual enlightenment comes through following Buddha’s example.

The Buddha

According to Wikipedia, enlightenment came to Buddha through a “blowing out” of negative emotions and the release that came after was the Nirvana.

Thich Nhat Hahn

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From Oprah’s interview of Thich Nhat Hanh:

Oprah: Are most monks enlightened, or seeking enlightenment?

Nhat Hanh: Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive—that you can touch the miracle of being alive—then that is a kind of enlightenment. Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.

I did a Buddhist meditation retreat (online) through Plum Village, which is the monastery founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. Learn more about what I thought!

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Deepak Chopra

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From Deepak Chopra’s website:

“According to Deepak Chopra, awakening happens when you are no longer living in a dream world where you filter everything through your ego and focusing on the future and the past. Instead, you have an almost simultaneous awareness of your individual self and the connection between that and everything else.”

Chopra described enlightenment as “getting rid of the person that never was”.

Pema Chödrön

According to the renowned buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön,

Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. At the peak we have transcended all pain. The only problem with this metaphor is that we leave all the others behind. . . .

In the process of discovering our true nature, the journey goes down, not up. . . . Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. . . .

We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away.

If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we will let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom we discover water, the healing water of compassion. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.

This is the most comprehensive definition of spiritual enlightenment of the 5 and the one that I like the most.

Instead of transcending pain, we go through it and make it out the other side.

Spiritual enlightenment and spiritual growth happens in the midst of turmoil, chaos, and pain, just like the mud lotus, which blooms because of the mud, not in spite of it.

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How Do You Know If You’re Spiritually Enlightened?

Spiritually enlightened woman sitting calmly, smiling.

Look for these qualities in yourself. (But generally, if you’re questioning whether you’ve reach spiritual enlightenment, you’re probably still working on it.)

1. You don’t turn away from discomfort or fear.

You understand discomfort, fear, anger, and tense situations as part of the human experience. You are vulnerable and turn toward those things in order to help foster understanding, relief, and peace.

2. You don’t get upset, frustrated, angry, or spiteful anymore.

When something bad happens, you are incredibly accepting. You understand that these things happen, even if someone acts angry or hateful to you, you do not get drawn into their energy.

3. You are consciously aware of energy and life force connections between yourself and all other living things.

You are compassionate toward animals and other creatures. You understand that we cannot live without animals, bees, plants, forests, and rivers. All of life forms a symbiotic relationship on earth.

4. You actively seek compassion, healing, and love.

You share your desire for understanding, love, and peace with others, whether in small or large ways. (This includes self-love.)

5. You always act from a place of understanding.

Even when others do not understand you, you accept that as a human reaction and the fact that it does not mean that person will not be more enlightened in the future. Everyone has their own path. You seek to understand, not to cut down, judge, or sway someone to your own point of view.

6. You live in the present moment.

You’ve accepted your past and found peace. Your future is yet unwritten and you accept that. You’re not consumed with worry or anxiety about what is to come.

7. You understand that life is truly a miracle.

Yes, life is something to be lived and enjoyed in the present moment. You marvel at baby kittens, a fresh rain, or bees in the springtime. To everything there is a season, and each season is incredibly beautiful.

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Enlightenment means something slightly different to each of the spiritual leaders above. But the definition of spiritual enlightenment is clear. Use these guides to help you on your quest to spiritual enlightenment.

Also, on your journey to Spiritual Enlightenment, make sure you check out The Best 16 Books to Help Your Journey to Spiritual Enlightenment.

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What is spiritual enlightenment? Answered by spiritual leaders. Learn about how to achieve e=spiritual enlightenment in your life. (Pinterest Image)

What is Spiritual Enlightenment, Explained by 4 Top Spiritual Leaders


Saturday 10th of September 2022

Hi! I love how informative and great your articles are. Can you recommend any other blogs that share blogs that share information on Spiritual Awakening or spirituality in general? Thanks a lot!

Thee Empress Beloved

Tuesday 30th of August 2022

Thank you for sharing this message 💜

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