Humans are animals. Questions to ponder: What does it mean for an animal to become enlightened? Is it possible to become enlightened incrementally (like gaining expertise)? Is enlightenment on a continuum with regular human capacities, or does it represent a qualitative shift? Or is the approach to enlightenment incremental but then actual achievement is a qualitative shift (kinda like expertise too)? Can one be enlightened and then fall out of it? Why? Why not? Of course, religious adherents, especially of Eastern traditions, will have their own answers to these questions, possibly quoting founders and masters who are considered enlightened. Buddhists may point out that “enlightenment” is an English word for which the closest concept is that of bodhi in Buddhist texts. Bodhi is also sometimes translated as “awakening”.
Within religious traditions, enlightenment is partly about achieving wisdom into the “true nature of the world”, i.e., the really real. This wisdom is transformative and resolves the problem of suffering. From an emic perspective, these few words about enlightenment are of course insufficient and misleading because enlightenment is not something regular “dualistic” minds can grasp. One needs a teacher and a lifetime of practice to get and stay on a path to enlightenment.
Enlightenment is usually described as a categorical shift in awareness/wisdom/being. Not just better and better, or more and more enlightened. But – bam! Of course, after the bam! the Enlightened One’s insight may be that these distinctions are nonsensical. Or so the common narrative would suggest.