One of the most common questions I get from beginning meditators revolves around the role of meditation and attaining a state of enlightenment.
Since these two ideas are often interlinked I thought I’d take a few moments to separate them out and consider an interesting question: is meditation necessary for enlightenment?
The theoretical answer: Both yes and no…it depends how you look at it.
The practical answer: Yes.
Why Meditation and Enlightenment Go Hand in Hand
Allow me to explain myself. The reason I think meditation both IS and IS NOT necessary for enlightenment is because there are many different definitions about what both meditation and enlightenment actually mean.
The Theory: No, It’s Not Necessary
As with many things, there isn’t a single, straightforward way to look at these ideas. Since both have been pursued by billions of perople for thousands of years, there’s naturally a lot of grey area in terms of what each practice might entail.
For argument’s sake, let’s give a simple definition of enlightenment as attaining an energetic perspective of the world, with a high degree of self-awareness. Self-awareness here includes the idea that all things are connected and that your experience of the world is a point of presence in the Eternal Now, which you might also talk about in terms of universal consciousness or the unified field.
In other words, enlightenment is a total awareness of Oneness.
If this is one’s aim, then, strictly speaking, meditation is not absolutely necessary. I view meditation as one tool that can help you to raise your awareness and increase your energy, but it is not the only tool.
Theoretically, you can become enlightened through any mindful practice. This is what Buddha conveyed when he gave the infamous “flower sermon” during which monks could gaze upon a flower and achieve enlightenment. In yogic traditions, every mantra is said to contain the essence of enlightenment.
In other words, you don’t have to sit with your eyes closed for years on end in order to become enlightened. It is quite literally all around you. Your highest state is always available to you.
Practically Speaking…Yes, Meditation Is A Fundamental Practice for Enlightenment
That said, I also think it would be very difficult to sustain elevated states of awareness and achieve enlightenment without ever meditating.
Meditations teaches you to become more aware of your thoughts and open to an internal source of energy that helps you reach a more enlightened perspective. While you can engage in other mindfulness practices, none is as effective, as quickly, as meditation.
Part of this answer depends upon what you consider to be meditation. For example, many practitioners consider meditation to be so closely aligned with enlightenment, that they view any activity taken with a calm, elevated awareness to be a form of meditation.
For this reason, there are mindfulness meditations that engage the senses, walking meditations that engage the body, and even thought-based meditations to increase your level of introspection.
What Is Your Reason for Meditating?
The best approach, however, is not to worry about what is and is not considered meditation, and when, exactly, you can consider yourself enlightened.
Instead, simply identify what your own personal reasons are for meditating, and establish a clear set of goals for your spiritual practice. Only then can you identify which tools and exercises are best suited to help you meet your aims. If you want to gain a higher state of awareness, for example, you can try these breath techniques outside of meditation. If you want to focus on personal growth, check out these empowerment exercises.
As you begin to explore these different paths, techniques, and exercises, you’ll soon find that there are a wide variety of styles and disciplines for you to choose from, and while meditation may play a strong role, it does not necessarily have to be a leading part of them.