by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
"For by grace are you saved through faith, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast." — Paul, Epistle to the Galatians (?)
When I first started to consider this 'enlightenment' thing as a real possibility, I understood early on that it was not something that one could earn. That, at least, seems to be the standard doctrine of those traditions which suppose the possibility. This is not, of course, what is generally practiced or believed by the vast majority of nominal adherents to these traditions, nor, I will venture to say, by those who most believe and pursue them.
The belief that we must do, believe, become — earn — something seems to be one more of those inclinations to which we 'naturally' gravitate. 'Religion', for me, stands for the ego-betterment-mess that always ensues from every great idea, like tyranny from utopianism.
Given my theological studies, I thus naturally thought of the realization of enlightenment (as a possibility) in terms of grace. The grace vs. works contrast is of prime importance within Christian theology and it was still being hammered out in the early Church. James, in fact, expressed a dissenting opinion in his epistle (we are saved through works), which led Martin Luther to call it "a right straw epistle".
But grace implies a gift, which implies Someone who gives it, and this is a belief to which I do not adhere. Enlightenment, should there be any such thing, must be a purely natural phenomenon the source of which is only and wholly within ourselves. No bolt of insight strikes from above. (Or from within which is above, because I am God, etc., etc.) I may be wrong, but this is the best I can manage. And I wonder if it really matters, in any case, either in terms of whether such a thing is realized (would it matter what I believed?), or if there was no such thing to realize at all.
If there is 'enlightenment', then I do think of it as a 'gift', much as genius or beauty or health is a gift — of nature. It's just the luck of the draw. In this case, it would be a human potential closer to the surface in some lucky ones, and a possibility for some of those who might want to dig a bit to find it. But for the vast majority of us, we must just plod along finding our fun in the digging — should we choose to dig.
You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.