Viewing humans as primates-mammals-animals-life forms, the concept of “enlightenment” and of “enlightened” beings seems strange to me.  If enlightenment exists, could animals other than humans become enlightened? Why? Why not? No surprise: I’m skeptical about whether enlightenment, in any of its religious variations, actually exists. I am more interested in the idea of enlightenment from outside a religious tradition – the etic perspective.  For instance, how does the concept of enlightenment relate to broader societal practices and memes? What assumptions and themes are associated with the concept of enlightenment?  How does the concept of enlightenment square with scientific findings? What is the truth-value of the concept of enlightenment? Does the concept of enlightenment make sense in terms of neuroscience and evolutionary theory?

Why do we believe that some people have achieved enlightenment? What counts as evidence of enlightenment, or an argument for the existence of enlightenment?

What is the relationship between enlightenment as a portal onto the really real* and enlightened humans as authorities on the really real?  On the one hand, we have the idea that enlightenment is not on a continuum with regular experience; on the other, we have enlightened “masters” who are not on a continuum with regular folk.  There is a special status, a categorical difference that marks the experience of enlightenment and the enlightened person : something absolutely different.

We’re talking about the authority of religious experience and of religious leaders. Since the state and the personal transformation cannot be understood by the unenlightened, the latter would do well to follow and obey those who have passed into the light. At least that's the theory.


* Per Clifford Geertz, it's the really real upon which the religious perspective rests.