In general the rhetoric of enlightenment is a problem. There is a game we play which says I am more enlightened that you. And there are only losers in this game. It is in fact nihilistic. I grant at the outsight that everyone is more enlightened than me. That is how I get out of that language game. I claim ignorance, following the example of Socrates. I don’t know if the people who engage in that language game are enlightened or not. I prefer not to judge. I don’t know if they think they are enlightened. I really just am too ignorant to play that game.
Rather, I suggest we need to turn the tables and concentrate on non-enlightenment and nihilism which is endemic to our tradition. My guess is that if we understood non-enlightenment we would know much more about enlightenment than we think we do, even when we think we are enlightened already.
Personally, I really don’t like much talking about this subject, because many times I feel that there is very little I can say that will change people’s attitude toward enlightenment as a commodity, something that I can personally have as an attribute of myself. Something that can make me admired. So my strategy is to talk about non-enlightenment from the point of view of a meta-enlightenment critique, similar to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Hegel already wrote an amazing critique of the Beautiful Soul in The Phenomenology of Spirit. So we probably do not have to repeat that here.
But just to give you an idea of what I mean. There is a magazine called “What is Enlightenment” which epitomizes the marketplace of spirituality. It is full of enlightened types and gurus of all kinds. So we are attracted to some of those and repulsed by others. But the fact that Enlightenment itself has become a marketplace in the West should give us pause. There are myriad of forms of enlightenment being offered for a price. Now that leads us into the arena of meta-critique where we actually ask the question seriously “What is Enlightenment?” And the further question is what is its place within Western culture and society and tradition? I propose that to answer that we must look carefully at the Western tradition and ask why it is so antithetical to enlightenment and nondual approaches in general. This is a historical reality which has to do with the dominance of Christianity in Europe, but it actually started back with Aristotle and his metaphysics if not before. Aristotle made non-contradiction and excluded middle the core of his metaphysics. Part of looking at our tradition is to begin to look at its aggressive non-enlightenment. I propose that the way to understand what enlightenment is within the context of western culture is to look at non-enlightenment very carefully. And I want to go further and see it through a nondual lens. I don’t want to develop a rhetoric of enlightenment or accept any particular dogma of enlightenment. But I want to see if we can pull the understanding of enlightenment out of our own non-enlightenment as a creative and reflexive act which is mutually shared. I would like to see if that possibility exists.