What is Enlightenment ?

To be clear and concrete:  Enlightenment is always to something.



of Obstacles and Stagnation

How do we perceive reality? 

We use our five senses to identify various objects in the physical world.  The senses provide necessary Information to distinguish between things, but such information gives only a ‘surface identification’ of observed objects.  The two major limitations of the senses are the following:

-The focus on differences between observed objects obscure the truth of their interconnectedness.   In reality, nothing is separate from its surroundings or other things, all things are interdependent in a way or another.  The perception of interconnectedness of objects or entities is performed by the mind, not by sense organs.

  1. -    Another limitation of the senses relates to being conditioned by the present time. An observed object, however, has its history and its future potentials.  To have a more complete picture of the existence of an observed object, we must consider the truth of its change in time,  Of great importance is object’s future state and development. The perception of future potentials of observed object is performed by the mind, not by sense organs.

The unseen world of Information: Sunyata

Buddhism teaches that each object has two aspects of being: the physical and the nonphysical.  The physical aspect is the field of matter and form, perceivable by the senses.  The non-physical is the field of information about its change in time and connectedness with other objects. This field of information requires no material substance to carry it, and its perception is carried out by the mind.  Because it is a field of pure information empty of physical matter it is called Sunyata:

Sunyata is a field of vibrant images about the dynamic change and connections of observed reality.  It is a space or void, vibrant with imagery that are empty of physical matter, and that’s why it is called Emptiness of physical matter, or in short “Emptiness”.  Sunyata is also called the field of NonSubstantiality, because there is no material substance within it.

Another name equivalent to Sunyata is the field of Potentiality, because its contents reveals the possibilities of future changes of observed phenomenon. 


The perspective that views the existence of an object as constantly changing and as completely dependent on other objects  – leads to an outstanding concept about its true nature, which simply states that nothing can claim having a separate unchanging identity.  No entity or object can claim having continuous selfhood, existing on its own.  There is no inherent individual identity of any object, as its existence is dependent on things beyond itself.

A simple example about the lack of individual nature of object can be understood through observing a tree.  A tree does not have an individual nature of its own.  Without soil, moisture, light and micro living things assisting the tree – it cannot even exist.  It is completely dependent on other things.   Additionally, the tree is continuously changing, having future potentials. Thus, a tree has a “fluid existence” – and does not have isolated or fixed “individual nature of its own”.

Nichiren quotes from Mahavariochana sutra: “Emptiness is by nature removed from the sense organs and their objects. It has no form or boundaries; beyond any futile theory, it is equal to space [void]. It represents the ultimate in the absence of individual nature.The Opening of the Eyes,

The notion of the “absence of individual nature” indicates that objects or entities do not possess inherent individuality or “fixed self.” A “fixed Self” requires having a ‘distinguished existence’ and ‘a distinct unchanging identity’ - but this is an illusion.  No one possesses unchanging soul and no existence is special by itself. 

While through the senses we perceive things from our point of view, it is possible to say that Sunyata provides us with the perception of things from the eyes of the impartial reality. Seeing things only through our senses is anthropomorphic in essence. In reality, regardless of any specific individuality, entities and objects perform their functions in life through dynamic interdependent relationships.  Before the eyes of the impartial reality, no existence possesses a special isolated individuality.


The original Sanskrit word of Sunyata carries the meaning of “Zero Obstacle” – indicating a field which is beyond the constrains or limitations of time and space. The word “Sunya” means “zero” as in “zero constrain” or “nothing” as in “nothing obstructing”.  Sunyata indicates how the field of information is different from the constrains and limitations of the physical world and its strict laws.

A good example of “No Obstacles” or “Emptiness of physical conditions” can be found in the daily example of dreams.  Dreams express a world with no physical rules, and no individual natures of those figures we see in them. 

The Sanskrit root word of Sunya is ‘svi’, which means “full of possibilities” – indicating that - as one source explains it: “The word Sunyata technically means “full potential to go anywhere”.

Sunyata reveals for observed object or entity vibrant images of potentials of change (or scenarios for how a situation or entity can develop). 

The practical impact of perceiving the field of Sunyata:

  1.         Abolishing attachment to Ego-Self:

“The practical purpose behind the teaching of non-substantiality lies in eliminating attachments to transient phenomena and to the ego, or the perception of self as an independent and fixed identity”.


“the Buddha was articulating a vision of a psyche freed from narcissism” 


  1.     Empowering with fresh inner potentials

"An understanding of ku [emptiness] helps us to see that, despite how we may see them, things--people, situations, relationships, our own lives--are not fixed, but dynamic, constantly changing and evolving. They are filled with latent potential which can become manifest at any time."


  1.        Contribution to psychology

“...the overwhelming disease of the human condition is narcissism [focus on ego-self and denying interconnectedness]..…

“the Buddha [through Sunyata] was articulating a vision of a psyche freed from narcissism”.


The MiddleWay

The way we view reality of things affects our reaction and has deep impact on our life.  Viewing reality through the physical aspect only is the way of materialism, while completely dwelling on the aspect of Sunyata is focusing on the non-material aspect in life.  Both are extremes, and neither alone reflects the full truth of reality.

Based on Nagarjuna’s (c. 200 AC) explanation of the subject of Sunyata, Nichiren Buddhism views life as being the integration of both aspects together: the material and the non-material, and takes the view that reality is the result of their integration – a oneness called the MiddleWay.

The MiddleWay is a perspective of thinking which avoids extremes or bias to either way of seeing things. Identifying things through the senses and through sunyata are both useful – but focusing on one of them and denying the other leads to falling into extremism. One’s personal life itself is the MiddleWay because we are both Body (and sense organs) and Mind (vibrant field of information and potentials).

“The MiddleWay is a way of thinking that rejects extremes: Shakyamuni’s life exemplifies a basic interpretation of the Middle Way as the path between two extremes, close to Aristotle’s idea of the “golden mean” whereby every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice.

The concept of the Middle Way


Author: Safwan Darshams

Rarely Asked Questions