In East Asian religions, the notion of enlightenment gets expressed in a variety of ways. For the most part, it indicates a certain level of awareness, a plateau of consciousness and spiritual freedom in which the individual is raised beyond the disorders of a fallen human nature. Of course, those religions do not necessarily have an understanding of a primordial “fall,” but nonetheless, there is a perennial wisdom contained within many of the world’s religions that spiritual growth involves a movement from a state of disharmony to one of harmony.
If we talk about the notion of a “Christian Enlightenment,” and if we were to place it alongside the East Asian notion, then we would have to draw a very clear distinction between the goal of each. While East Asian religions promote a path of peace and interior harmony, Christianity sees spiritual experience and interior harmony not as an end in itself, but rather as a means in service of an interpersonal commitment. Along these lines, the goal of Christian Enlightenment is a conformity to the person of Jesus Christ.
While interior harmony and equanimity can provide the preconditions which lead to the surrender of faith, hope, and love, we should also understand that there remains a distinction. Our interior balance and mental well-being, while a natural good, is not in and of itself salvation. As much as we can prepare our hearts to receive God’s love, nonetheless it is always first and foremost a free gift from God. Thus, Christianity most always cling to the possibility that many people who never experience the heights of mystical experience are nonetheless saved.
With this in mind, we should recognize that our efforts are merely the means to give space for the activity of God, to abnegate our will for God’s will. For example, in the Desert Fathers the cultivation of interior stillness was merely a preparation for the reception of Divine love. Because of its gift character, Divine love transcends our natural abilities, and this awareness leads to a posture of receptivity and dependance on God. While spiritual experiences can be pleasing and nourishing, their ultimate orientation is to attach us to the person of Jesus Christ so as to share his love with the world. Thus, Christian enlightenment is other-centered, leading us to communion with God and neighbor.
If we can talk about Christian Enlightenment, it would necessarily involve a continual path of conversion whereby the individual learns to move outside of oneself and towards God. This constant turning to the Lord in the heart means that Christian Enlightenment must be renewed day by day for as long as we are in this world. As we move out towards God in faith, hope, and love, this joins us to our neighbor through Jesus Christ and creates the opportunity for us to be truly united in him.
What would distinguish Christian enlightenment from its East Asian counterpart is that it would not be the exclusive domain of monks and religious who dedicate their lives to spiritual perfection. Rather, within the Christian context, enlightenment is the vocation of all the baptized because to be in heaven is to be in relationship with Christ. Cultivating this relationship with Christ in this world through the sacraments and personal prayer is nothing short of us allowing heaven into our daily lives.
Maybe that is the best definition for Christian enlightenment, giving permission for heaven to enter our lives.
Maybe you can answer my question. What would be the major difference between receiving Gods love through meditation vs. Christ? I believe Jesus is the devine manifestation of God and in himself is God. It seems that many people who practice eastern philosophy also attain Gods love, and if the bridge between meditating leads to Gods love than what distinguishes this from accepting Gods love through Christ? You could tell me that people who meditate are influenced by false angels of light and many other things but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It says in the bible that accepting Christ is the only way into heaven. well It seems if one were to become enlightened that they truly do have communion with God and maybe accepting Christ is a definition that needs to be more broadened. I believe it says somewhere in the bible that if one abides in Christ’s Love than he also follows his commandments. So if one were following Christs commandment of Love than incidently they are accepting Christ? im stuck between Christianity and eastern philosophy because both seem to be right in different ways yet they also contradict themselves. There must be some missing link right?
If you could please respond to my email? Thankyou
Zachary, books have been written on such things. We learn little by little.