Once the Buddha was asked if anyone can become enlightened, even if they were not a follower of the Buddha. His answer - a resounding; "Of course!"

He even went further than that. He warned about becoming attached to the religion itself, and suggested that one only use Buddhism as a raft to cross over from delusion to enlightenment. Then, just as one who has crossed a river in a raft gets out of the raft on the far shore and leaves it behind, so an enlightened person should do the same with Buddhism. He wasn't trying to build a religion, he was trying to free people.

He did have one caveat to these statements, however.

What faith or religion one belongs to, or no religion or faith, doesn't matter. But something else does. And without this something else, which has no relationship to any particular beliefs or non-beliefs, enlightenment is not possible.

So what could this be, this universal requirement for enlightenment; this applicable-to-all proposition that can free humankind?

The Buddha said that eight things must be understood for enlightenment to happen, regardless of or in addition to one‘s beliefs, and if even one of these eight things are missing, enlightenment will not occur.

These eight things, he said, could even be broken down into three things: Morality, self introspection, and the wisdom or insight that results in spiritual transcendence.

It wouldn't matter what deity one believed in or what path one followed, as long as that path led to a moral character and pure, innocent and honorable actions. Then the mind would have no regrets and worries, and without regrets and worries, it could relax into calm and peaceful states that would in turn cut through our devious illusions and foster a true wisdom and insight that would transcend mind itself and enter truly spiritual, ineffable realms. What good are beliefs and ideals if the end product is a clinging to beliefs and ideals to the point of excluding or disliking others?

One thing the Buddha was good at was explaining things clearly, not couched in mystery, so that they could easily be understood. Therefore he explained in detail what these eight steps are, involving morality, self introspection, and the resulting insight and wisdom.

The first step is balanced understanding. This means that we understand the reality of life; that it consists more or less of endless attempts for happiness by way of endless attempts to escape our discontent. That we are driven to this goal, and that this constant pressure to be happy equates as stress. And being thus driven, we sometimes harm others in our relentless pursuit of our own happiness, never coming to terms with happiness's unreliability and transience.

The second step is balanced thought. This means cultivating thoughts of good will, an absence of cruelty, and disconnect from blinding greed and hatred. This also means dedicating one's life to perfecting one's character and spirituality even over one's social status or material wealth.

The third step is balanced speech. This entails an awareness of how we speak to others, from outright lying to subtle harm where we might talk behind another's back, slander someone unfairly, pass on hearsay as if we knew it to be our own truthful facts, gossip, use harsh speech where we might swear or exaggerate in order to make up for our insecurities in expressing ourselves, and even frivolous speech which is speech merely in order to keep each other entertained.

The fourth step is balanced action. This means cultivating calm and guiltless mental states by not harming others, including any living beings that treasure their life as much as we do and protect themselves from death. This also includes not harming one's established sexual relationship by greedily involving oneself with another. With stealing, and with involving oneself with intoxicants or illicit drugs.

The fifth step is balanced livelihood. This means making a non-harmful living free of deceit, underhandedness, unfairness, human slavery and prostitution, dealing in weapons, dealing in intoxicants, butchery, poisons, and dealing in profit made from profit.

The sixth step is balanced effort. Here we encourage positive mind states to arise within us such as loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and sympathetic joy. We discourage harmful mind states to arise such as greed, hatred and delusion. We further cultivate positive mind states that have already arisen in us to grow, and weed out harmful states that are still with us.

The seventh step is balanced mindfulness. Here we embark upon the true spiritual aspects of religion by contemplating what exactly we are regarding our bodies and minds, and whether or not an ego is a reality or a delusion. This results in wisdom and insight into life. We actively investigate our feelings, our body, our consciousness and the reality or the truths of life as we experience it.

The eighth step is balanced concentration. This is the crux of practice; meditation that frees the mind from its illusions and pain and enables us to see all of the seventh above steps of balanced mindfulness clearly.

The above is just a thumbnail sketch of Buddhist practice, a practice that for over 2600 years has produced many enlightened individuals. But regardless of whether one becomes fully enlightened or not, the first day that one puts these practices into sincere action is the day that their entire life begins to turn around.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock (anagarika addie) is a meditation teacher at:

http://www.dhammarocksprings.org/ and author of “A Year to Enlightenment:


His 30 years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk.

He lived at Wat Pah Nanachat under Ajahn Chah, at Wat Pah Baan Taad under Ajahn Maha Boowa, and at Wat Pah Daan Wi Weg under Ajahn Tui. He had been a postulant at Shasta Abbey, a Zen Buddhist monastery in northern California under Roshi Kennett; and a Theravada Buddhist anagarika at both Amaravati Monastery in the UK and Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand, both under Ajahn Sumedho. The author has meditated with the Korean Master Sueng Sahn Sunim; with Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia; and with the Tibetan Master Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado. He has also practiced at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Zen Center in San Francisco.