When I hear the word “enlightened,” an image of the Dalai Lama immediately comes to mind.
I’m sure you’ll agree that he’s universally recognized as an enlightened person and an excellent source of wisdom.
But what exactly does being enlightened mean? Does it mean knowing the secret to happiness? Conquering your fears? Staying calm in the midst of chaos?
And – this is equally important – is it possible for ordinary people like us to be enlightened ourselves?
In this article, I’ll discuss the signs of an enlightened person and the habits you can start to be more enlightened yourself.
Let’s dive in!
What does enlightenment mean?
Before we get into the signs, let’s take a moment to talk about what enlightenment is.
I won’t go into Kant’s philosophy and all that…
I’ll just put it in plain and simple terms: enlightenment is an emotional, psychological, and spiritual awakening.
I think about the path to enlightenment as a dark tunnel with a light shining at the end of it.
Similarly, we go through a life-changing event or struggle before we come to an epiphany. Along the way, we pick up lessons that make us wiser and kinder and give us a renewed sense of purpose.
If you’re wondering what that looks like, here are the signs of a genuinely enlightened person:
1) A genuinely enlightened person has self-awareness
”Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment.”
– Lao Tzu
Self-awareness is knowing your soul – what it longs for, what your thoughts are, and how your behavior affects others.
Every enlightened person’s path to enlightenment begins with self-awareness.
Often, someone who experiences a spiritual awakening has a deep inner knowing of their true nature. They’re self-aware and trust their intuition when making decisions.
Without self-awareness, you won’t be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses. You won’t be able to see where you need to improve.
And as they say, you can’t fix a problem you can’t see!
For the longest time, I struggled with this. In the heat of an argument, hurtful words would come out of my mouth before I could stop them.
I didn’t even realize it at first, but once guilt set in, I started being more proactive and monitoring my behavior. I began observing my thought patterns, habits, and emotions without judgment.
I’m a long way off from being truly enlightened, but I can definitely say that self-reflection and self-awareness have helped me live more mindfully and intentionally!
2) A genuinely enlightened person is open-minded
“Those who are enlightened never stop forging themselves.”
– Morihei Ueshiba
It’s no secret that enlightenment requires a frame of mind that’s receptive to learning. After all, how will you be open to what life has to teach you if you’re not curious?
That’s why a truly enlightened person has a growth mindset.
As they grow in self-awareness, an enlightened person comes to see that they don’t know everything. They understand that learning is a lifelong process and that staying curious is essential to keep learning new things.
This reminds me of what the philosopher Aristotle once said: “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.”
Having this as one of your life’s mantras will help you stay open to new ideas and a deeper understanding of yourself and others.
It also helps you to be accepting and non-judgmental of other people.
Why does having a growth mindset come easily to enlightened people?
Well, that’s because…
3) A genuinely enlightened person is humble
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Just because they’re wiser than most of us doesn’t mean that enlightened people sit on their high horses, being all-knowing and proud.
Nope. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
An enlightened person understands that they can only grow if they are humble enough to accept others’ perspectives.
They are not driven by ego or pride, and they aren’t afraid of admitting when they are wrong.
And as I mentioned earlier, someone working on their enlightenment approaches life with a growth mindset.
It goes without saying that you can’t have that openness to learning without humility. These two traits go hand in hand.
Once you reach a point where you’re willing to be vulnerable and open to criticism, you’ll know you’re on a path to enlightenment.
If you find it difficult to let go of your ego, consider spending some time in nature. The following section will show you why…
4) A genuinely enlightened person appreciates nature and solitude
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Ever wonder why most monasteries are tucked away in scenic and secluded spots?
Or why taking a walk outside is one of the most common things we’re told when we feel angry or out of sorts?
That’s because nature has a really peaceful energy. And if there’s anything that an enlightened person seeks, it’s peace of mind and harmony.
In fact, nature is super important for Buddhists because it’s perfect for meditation and Buddhist practice.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be enlightened wherever you are, whether in a bustling city or the four walls of your bedroom.
Of course you can, but –
If you want to really soak in some soothing and peaceful energy…
If you really want to be sensitive to the stirrings of your soul…
If you want to let go of your egotistical tendencies…
…immerse yourself in nature.
The research bears this. Experts say that people who are more connected with nature tend to be happier and more serene.
I know this from experience. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to float on the beach at night, watching the starry sky as the water lulls my body.
You know what I love about it?
It makes me feel two things: I feel refreshed and at peace, and at the same time, I marvel at how vast the universe is and how I am but a small speck of it.
Believe me, that thought keeps me humble and in awe of the majesty around me!
This leads me to my next point…
5) A genuinely enlightened person has a sense of purpose
“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
The quote above by Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my favorites because it perfectly illustrates how important it is to feel life’s every vibration and to never take it for granted.
Many of us spend our days just going through the motions. We wake up, go to work, get things done, go home, and fall into bed exhausted.
The next day, we wake up and do the same thing all over again.
And it goes on day after day until we finally grow old and realize we’ve wasted all our years because we’ve forgotten how it is to truly live.
I get it – sometimes, life just gets so busy we forget what matters most.
An enlightened person is the exact opposite. They know how crucial it is to live mindfully and with a sense of purpose.
When they look at everything around them, they understand that they’ve been placed on Earth for a reason, just like the plants, the animals, and every single thing in nature.
Having a sense of purpose doesn’t have to mean contributing to a grand cause. It might mean making your loved ones happy or staying true to yourself!
Whatever your purpose is, your actions need to align with it.
So, enough with going through the motions! It’s time to make every move you make count and enrich your life and those around you.
6) A genuinely enlightened person is kind and compassionate
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
– Dalai Lama
Ready to start living with a purpose? Start with kindness.
Kindness is such a simple word, yet often forgotten in our busy, fast-paced world today.
But a truly enlightened person knows the impact a kind word or gesture can have on another person’s life.
Empathy just comes naturally to them. And since they are open-minded, they can easily put themselves in others’ shoes and understand their perspectives.
You might ask, can one be enlightened without compassion?
Let’s put it this way: if enlightenment is a state of heightened understanding and awareness, how can it be possible if you’re not aware of the needs of others?
In fact, most meditative practices are used to develop feelings of love and kindness toward yourself and others.
No matter what religion you belong to, you’ll find that kindness is one of its important aspects.
As long as you practice mindfulness, you’ll find yourself feeling more tender, sympathetic, and compassionate toward other people.
7) A genuinely enlightened person knows how to be content
“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”
– Dale Carnegie
Such an elusive concept that continues to be out of reach for many people.
Why is contentment so hard to achieve?
Well, with society pressuring us to do more, be more, own more…it can be incredibly tough to be happy with what you have or who you are.
An enlightened person has it all figured out – for one simple reason.
They know that true happiness comes from within.
They aren’t hampered by the expectations of others, nor do they try to take control of everything.
Their identity and self-worth aren’t dependent on their achievements and possessions.
They live freely in the moment, appreciating the small things and being grateful for both their joys and trials.
How to be more enlightened
Yes, enlightenment gives you a picture of freedom and lightness of being. But make no mistake – getting there is no easy task. It calls for a great deal of effort, discipline, and patience!
Here are some habits to help you get started:
Practice self-care and work on self-awareness
As you know by now, the path to enlightenment begins with the self. It makes sense to focus more on taking care of and getting to know yourself.
Spend some time in solitude, much like the monks who’ve mastered the art of contemplation.
Find a spot in nature – it can be in a vast field or on a small garden patch – use whatever space with natural elements is available to you.
Then, breathe deep and free your mind from distractions.
Tune in to your emotions and acknowledge them. Make it a daily practice to reflect and meditate.
Be willing to learn
Remember the growth mindset? That’s your new approach to life, starting now.
Say goodbye to the old you who used to get defensive when corrected.
The new you is completely different – you’re now someone who embraces challenges and criticism and sees them as opportunities to learn.
Cultivate empathy and compassion
Is the concept of doing acts of kindness new to you? Well, it’s never too late to learn.
You don’t have to launch yourself into performing giant acts of generosity. You can start small, just doing little things that make others happy.
Be there for someone who needs a shoulder to cry on. Offer words of encouragement to a friend who’s down in the dumps. Run errands for a sick friend.
These little things go a long way in helping you develop empathy and putting others’ needs before yours.
An attitude of gratitude – this is what enlightened people have. It’s what keeps them smiling in the face of adversity and what keeps them grounded in the present.
I know it can be hard to feel grateful, especially when you feel stressed. But it’s always a good idea to think about what you do have to get a fresh perspective in life.
Just take care not to go overboard with toxic positivity. You don’t want to mask your true feelings and live life pretending you’re fine.
The goal is to acknowledge how you feel while also acknowledging the things you have going for you.
If you need to make it concrete, you can start a gratitude journal where you list a few things you’re thankful for every day.
Lastly, examine your heart and weed out feelings of pride. Remember, if left unchecked, your ego is the enemy of growth and wisdom.
The great thing about humility is that it’s a natural side effect of self-awareness, empathy, and compassion!
As you develop the latter qualities, you’ll naturally become modest and aware of your humanness.
Enlightenment is a concept that is often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
While there is no definitive definition of an enlightened person, these are the seven primary characteristics you’ll likely find in those who consider themselves enlightened.
Cultivating these signs on your own will help you discover who you are and what makes you happy. It’s a journey of self-discovery and transformation that requires time, dedication, and commitment.
But by consistently putting in the work, you’ll get there – you can become more aware and in tune with yourself and the world around you.