Is enlightenment pie in the sky?

path to enlightenment

enlightenment pie in the skyI was remembering the other day what happened when I first encountered Buddhism. A new friend at college happened to mention that there was a talk on that evening by a Tibetan Lama in York – he was not Geshe Kelsang, who became my teacher, but a visitor who was being hosted by the Buddhist Centre. I took another nice, new friend, M., along with me, not having a clue what to expect (this was 1981 in the North of England when meditation was an alien concept to most people.)

To be honest, I hardly understood a word this Geshe said. But during the course of the evening, I couldn’t help thinking: “Whatever it is you have, I want it.”

He said a couple of things I sort of got, the words at least. The first was a comment about how we have radiators in the West, followed by his falling about laughing – something he seemed to be doing most of the evening. I suppose for someone who grew up in Tibet, radiators and other Western technology must have seemed quite amusing. (This was in the days before SmartPhones, which he would doubtless have found hysterical.) M. told me later that I was laughing uproariously and a little crazily at everything, which seems strange given that I didn’t know what this happy Tibetan was saying; but clearly this stuff was infectious.

The other comment I remember from that evening was:

 “We are all on the airplane to enlightenment!”

(Followed by even more laughter.)

path to enlightenmentWe’re what??! I thought. What is he talking about?! I knew I still liked it, I probably laughed along, but I wasn’t sure what it was I liked. And, when I stopped to think about it, enlightenment or Buddhahood sounded rather pie in the sky. As far as I was concerned, I’d be lucky to just get through the day without getting annoyed with someone. If Buddhist meditation could do that for me, I’d give it a shot.

And so M. and I did, the following week at the regular introductory meditation class at our nearest Buddhist centre. That was almost 32 years ago. The rest is history.

Although I well remember how pie in the sky enlightenment felt back then, since then I’ve decided that it really is not that much of a culturally alien concept, let alone an impossibly idealistic goal. Indeed, it is within the reach of every one of us; we just have to get going, starting with wanting it.

The other day I asked some friends if they wanted to improve. They said yes. Then I asked them what would happen if they did improve a bit and became a bit kinder and wiser, for example – would that be enough, or would they still want to improve? They said they would.

Interesting, I said. No wonder Buddha says we all have Buddha nature or Buddha seed, which is our natural potential for improvement; we clearly feel it on some level. We have this potential because our mind is not inherently existent, or fixed, which means it can change. If you really want to improve, then your Buddha seed has already sprouted into the beginning of a Bodhisattva’s mentality because a Bodhisattva is someone who has taken that wish to its logical conclusion and wants to keep improving until there is no further room for improvement.

Then I asked them if they would like to be able to help more people than they are helping at the moment. They said yes. So I asked them what would happen if they were able to help, say, 3 more people than they are helping now due to being kinder and wiser (see above), would that then be the end of it? No, they replied, they’d want to help even more people.

And there you have it, I said. You’re already just like a baby Bodhisattva, who has taken this wish to its logical conclusion and wishes to help all living beings without leaving anyone out. That wish is part of our compassion, also our Buddha nature. We are naturally kind because when our delusions are not functioning we default to being peaceful and free from self-centeredness, connected to others.

bodhichitta airplane to enlightenmentA Bodhisattva is someone who wishes to help all living beings without exception by attaining enlightenment aka becoming a Buddha. A Buddha is someone, anyone, who has perfected all their good qualities and got rid of all their faults, viz, improved until there is no further room for improvement.

What is so pie in the sky about that? We just have to train in our natural wishes and let our mind expand. We are all on the airplane to enlightenment; we just have to get it off the ground.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

21 thoughts on “Is enlightenment pie in the sky?”

  1. This is a little prayer I say and meditate on when I’m trying to pull in the good ie, patience, love, compassion, wisdom, etc… and push out the bad ie, ignorance, anger, selfishness, resentments, etc… ! You all can use it if you like it.
    I pray this prayer and these wishes for others as well as myself, they need it as much as I do. They deserve it as much as I do and thru my love and wishes may they attain them. For them as well as myself, love, patience, acceptance, compassion, enlightenment and more. They are me and I am them. We are all good, we are all one. I can, they can, we will overcome all our delusions of self and mind and become what I know we can be. Our true Buddha nature. It works for me maybe it will be helpful to someone else!?

    1. Thank you Pinky, this is great 🙂 When you say “pull in and push out”, I take it you mean during breathing meditation — breathing out the smoke of our delusions and breathing in the light of love etc? Do you imagine others doing this at the same time as you are?

  2. Yes I know you are right “We are all on the airplane to enlightenment!” but and everybody has own speed. You are amassing teacher L. Thanks

  3. “We are naturally kind because when our delusions are not functioning … We just have to train in our natural wishes and let our mind expand.” This is a clear, simple and straightforward article 🙂 Thanks Luna

  4. Great article, thank you. I’ve been thinking about this lately. I attended a retreat a few weeks ago, and the teacher completely demystified enlightenment for me. I’ve been 11 years in training, and yet I never believed that I could become enlightened. Of course I believed in it as a general thing and as something that others could attain, but not for myself. The essential reason for this was that I did not understand how it could happen. On the retreat the teacher was continually talking about our pure potential, and how it is that pure potential that eventually grows into a fully enlightened state. Nicola will never get enlightened, Nicola is a false projection cluttered with delusions and limitations. This was my sticking point. The teacher also re-phrased enlightenment (simply) as ‘a state of permanent peace and happiness, and encouraged us to see any experience of peace as our potential for full enlightenment- if we can experience a little bit of something, it follows that we can experience a lot of something- and finally only that. What you and this other teacher say has completely cleared the path for me, thank you.

        1. “Nicola will never get enlightened, Nicola is a false projection cluttered with delusions and limitations. This was my sticking point.”
          Mine, too and I feel from this, movement, a taste of liberation – thank you.

  5. Luna this article “shines” all over !
    it really gets my energy grow !
    it was like an awakening message!
    thanks for the time you give us to do this so virtuous work,
    reading your blog is so valuable and enjoyable …
    thanks again… : )

  6. Thank you for making it sound so simple – because that’s what it is, isn’t it? And yet my mind works very hard at making spiritual practice seem so big, so difficult! Why is that?
    I suspect it’s a self-cherishing ‘get-out clause.’ ‘Enlightenment is soooo big, soooo tricky – let’s just have another cup of tea and a choccie biscuit instead.’

  7. When your mind is THAT happy, even radiators are a bliss trip! May we all turn ‘aspiring’ into ‘engaging’ … walk the walk!!! Thanks, Luna.xx

Leave a Reply