Science of Meditation Week 6 - Enlightenment

My notes from a Coursera course on meditation, Buddhism, and modern psychology - Week 6.

Is enlightenment really enlightenment?

  • Two more things - Emptiness and Not-self exterior view (Not-self - interior view is what we've talked about so far).
  • Not-self exterior view - is about blurring the boundaries between you and not-you. The truth that universe has always been interconnected. (thinking about the question "who has played a role in you sitting here right now?")
  • Meditation is reported to quiet self-referential thoughts ("what am I going to do tomorrow?", "what does that person think of me?")
  • "The bad news is that you don't exist, the good news is that you're everywhere".
  • Example of a Not-Self experience during meditation: hearing a bird song and sensing tingling in the feet as indistinguishable from each other. That was possible in part because you're identifying less with the tingling in the first place as yours.
  • The notion that this 'exterior' Not-Self experience would bring out world peace if everyone meditated and saw clearly the lack of boundaries between themselves and others so there is no logic to harming others. (Nice but bit of a stretch, and a bit light on clear connections)


  • Emptiness is a part of one type of Buddhism and although sounds grim, the experience of emptiness is described as pleasant by meditators.
  • So qualities are real but essence is not real or that essence is added on by us. (apple is red is a physical quality)
  • Capgras Delusion - when a person, with this disorder, is convinced that their loved one is an impostor. The person looks like their mother but is in fact not their mother. So this would mean the qualities are the same but the essence is lacking. Or the appearance is the same but the emotion we identify with 'mother' is not there.
  • People do have affective reaction to things and objects in general, even if those things don't belong to them.
  • People by default sense an essence in things - essentialism. The story we tell about something, the category that we put it in, shapes the perception of its essence.(example: people paying thousands of dollars for an item that belonged to some famous person or people busying expensive wine)
  • formless might be a better word than emptiness
  • The experience of 'emptiness' is not devoid of emotion nor flat or grim. It is described as complete, satisfied fullness. (The word 'satisfied' is interesting here as unsatisfactoriness was the source of suffering in the First Noble Truth)


  • Bullet points of enlightenment would be: interior not-self, emptiness/formlessness, exterior not-self, impermanence
  • Recalling interior not-self concept - we don't have to identify with our feelings or thoughts. Thoughts without a thinker. Modular model of the mind where feelings/thoughts bubble up from different modules and with a meditated mind we can choose which ones we allow into consciousness based on what is useful to us.
  • Story to recall emptiness concept - about observing a weed on a walk during a meditation retreat that you've been battling with in your yard at home and loosing this perception that 'it's bad/evil'.
  • Story to recall exterior not-self concept - about perceiving or sensing a bird singing and tingling in one's foot as not having a distinction.
  • Recalling impermanence concept - nothing is permanent, pleasure or pain. Our inability to grasp this and our clinging to things is what causes suffering or unsatisfactoriness.
  • Natural selection and these concepts as a rebellion against natural selection, we can think through each of these 4 concepts as heresy from the pov of natural selection.
  • Racism is a form of essence-tialism. Which is assigning some essence, some feeling to a whole group of people (negative in this case).
  • Nationalism is also a form of essence-tialism. Essentially "my national group has this good thing in it, and other national groups not so much"
  • We are 'by nature' or 'by default' group-ist, the 'us vs. them' machinery is strong. example of Princeton vs. Dartmouth football game.
  • We impose meaning (form) onto the world in the course of perceiving it.
  • Arguments made that achieving enlightenment - experiencing the above 4 concepts - would move us closer to "objective" truth as well as "moral" truth.
  • Question I have - emotional disturbance as skipping a rock in a still body of water. It eventually becomes still again. With our mind this may be the case but it might take a lot longer and with meditation this can be sped up?

Naturalist Religion:

  • "The essence of religion is the belief that there is an unseen order and our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves to that order"
  • The truth about the world, moral truth, and end of suffering is all 'built' into this path to enlightenment (in Naturalist Buddhism). There is an alignment between them.
  • Buddhism doesn't assert a divinely imparted plan of the universe by a god. But it does assert this 'unseen' order on it's own.
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