I’m going to be using the word enlightenment a lot in these posts, but in two different contexts where it has two different meanings. I’ll be talking a lot about The Age of Enlightenment, sometimes called The Enlightenment Project, but more commonly just The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a period in European history that is generally considered to have begun in the late 17th Century and continued to the late 18th Century. That’s the period when its fundamental concepts were developed. To a great degree, we still live by them today, although it’s my contention that the Enlightenment ideals as a package are in a state of collapse. The Enlightenment was the intellectual movement that led the revolt against the old era of rule by the Catholic Church and hereditary royalty. Its central tenet was that human beings should live by their own reasoning, that no received doctrines from the church or arbitrary edicts from royalty should stand. Here enlightenment refers to the light of reason being cast on the darkness created by the superstitions of the church and oppressive rule by the royals. From that movement of philosophers and scientists, we have today’s world of individual freedom, free enterprise, science-based decision making, republics, democracy, secularism, and cosmopolitanism or globalism.
The word “enlightenment” is also used generally to translate terms from various cultures—Indian, Chinese, Japanese and others—that describe a spiritual state that is almost diametrically opposed to what the Enlightenment philosophers were advocating. The Age of Enlightenment was about knowledge of the world and creating a just civilization, whereas enlightenment, in the spiritual sense, is about wisdom, about going beyond the world, or material plane, to an experience of the spiritual source of the material plane. Freedom in this sense focuses less on one’s civil rights and more on liberation from one’s doubts and fears—liberation from one’s ego.
It’s not my intention for the moment to comment on the two ideas, but to make a note of the two different meanings.