How do You Know if Someone is Enlightened?

Posted on 18 May 2006

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There are some spiritual teachers who claim to be Enlightened, and yet their actions may not seem very Enlightened. This creates doubt about whether or not they are really Enlightened or not. Is there a way to know? What are the signs of Enlightenment? How can you know for sure if someone else is Enlightened? While these questions have relative value, it is important to recognize some hidden assumptions and misconceptions that often lurk behind them.

First of all, any judgment as to someone else’s state of being, be it spiritual or psychological or physiological, is relative to some assumptions and definitions. In particular, it is impossible to judge whether or not someone else is Enlightened without some assumption about what it means to be Enlightened, or how you draw the line between Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment. Different traditions and people have their different ways of drawing this line. So, judging whether or not someone else is Enlightened is a relative judgment about which there can be no absolute certainty.

There is also a second, more profound, reason why we can not know for sure whether someone else is Enlightened. Because of the nondual nature of Enlightenment, the only person whose Enlightenment you can be absolutely certain about is your own. And even in that case, it is not even “your” Enlightenment that “you” are certain about. There is no “you”. There is no “thing” to be certain about. There is just Enlightenment. That is the only Truth that absolute certainty applies to. The moment we start talking about ourselves and other people, about delusion and enlightenment, we are entering a relative world of duality in which there is no absolute certainty. Enlightenment is nondual and inconceivable. Thus, it has no definite mark or sign to distinguish it from something else. The moment we define Enlightenment as being this or that, we have not described it. We’ve only described some idea of it.

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