In my mind, enlightenment can be defined quite simply:
Seeing images as images. Words as words. Sensations as sensations.
It sounds so simple – and perhaps ordinary – that many will probably reject that definition. That’s understandable. And yet, it’s the simplest, most clear, and most accurate pointer I can come up with now. It’s the one closest to my own immediate experience.
This means that we can, as Byron Katie points out, be enlightened to the thought that’s here or not. It’s clear that we can tend to be enlightened to thoughts to different degrees. And yet, what really matters is how enlightened I am to the thought that’s here and now.
Some side notes:
As so many point out, it’s not that a person is enlightened or not enlightened. It’s the thought of a person that “we” are enlightened to. We recognize the images, words, and sensations creating the appearance of a particular self as images, words, and sensations. (And “we” here means…. what a thought may call consciousness, presence, that which images, words, and sensations happen within and as.)
As implied above, I am suspicious of the idea of “being enlightened” in general. Obviously, there is a tendency to see images, words and sensations as images, words and sensations (or not), and this tendency may be relatively stable (or not), and may deepen over time (or not). And yet, even if there is such as tendency, it’s still possible – and sometimes inevitable – to get caught in the apparent reality of the creations of our own mind. We may still be mesmerized by our own imaginations. That especially seems to happen when traumas are triggered. Deficient selves that we haven’t yet thoroughly examined.
This is all much simpler and more ordinary than how many spiritual traditions presents it. I don’t really know why they present it in a way that seems more extraordinary, mystical, and unachievable. Is it to get more followers? Because many people in the traditions didn’t quite get it themselves, and created fantasies about it? Because the main role of traditions is to maintain themselves, and they are not primarily about reality and truth? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a combination of these things and more.
Also, saying that I am enlightened (or not) to the thought that’s here and now, makes it sound a bit simpler than it is. Right now, there may be several thoughts and beliefs operating in me, and I am aware of only one or a few. Many of the unquestioned thoughts I operate from are partly or completely outside of my conscious awareness. And yet, through inquiry, they do tend to come to the surface. They seek the light, when it’s available to them. It just requires some attention, intention, and sincerity. And it’s ongoing. It’s an ongoing exploration.