What kind of person should I strive to be? What ideals should I pursue in my life? These questions, or versions of them, are essential building blocks of the human condition, and often recur throughout our lives. Dale S. Wright argues that the question at the heart of them all is one most commonly associated with Buddhism: What is enlightenment? Any serious practitioner of human life, religious or not, confronts the challenge of how to reach a different, improved–or enlightened–state of being, and fundamental to that quest is grappling with what enlightenment actually means. Why then, Wright asks, is this question not only avoided, but discouraged among Buddhists?

The simplest and perhaps most important reason is that pondering a distant goal is a waste of energy that would be much better applied to practice: Quiet the flow of obsessive thinking, put yourself in a mindful state of presence, and let enlightenment take care of itself. However, the point of Buddhist practice is that it might lead to some form of awakening; in some groundbreaking transformation; in enlightenment. Wright contends that understanding the nature of the enlightenment that one seeks is the most important task of all, and that it can and should be in line with practice. Once practice is underway, he says, there should be an ongoing meditation on the ideal that is being strived for.

What is Buddhist Enlightenment? offers a wide-ranging exploration of issues that have a bearing on the contemporary meaning of enlightenment. While he takes an examination of what enlightenment has been in past Buddhist traditions as his point of departure, Wright’s historical considerations yield to the question that our lives press upon us-what kinds of lives should we aspire to live here, now, and into the future?

Dale S. Wright is the Gamble Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and Professor of Asian Studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He writes and teaches courses in Buddhist Studies, the Philosophy of Religion, and Contemporary Religious Thought. Wright is the author of books, articles, and reviews, including Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism and The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character and the co-editor of a series of five books on Zen Buddhist history for Oxford University Press.

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