Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Enlightenment Hypothesis

The enlightenment hypothesis proposes that the mystical and compassionate aspect of all major religions is based on the same fundamental experience, and that all major religions have at their core some instructions on how to live based on this experience. Therefore, by studying and comparing different religions on this dimension we can gain a clearer idea about this experience, which I refer to as enlightenment. From a scientific point of view, if there is anything real about religion, it must arise from being human and not from a particular cultural/historical/metaphysical point of view. In this blog I search for this truth in Buddhism and Christianity. Comparing more religions would be great but religions are complex and it is hard enough to learn about one, let alone two. However, according to this hypothesis, interpretations that lead to agreement between religions are more likely to be right. Therefore, this approach (if you believe in it) can provide insights that might not be so clear without making the comparisons.


  1. Rob, I don't think that concentrating on similarities between religions per se weill get you very far.

    I think perhpas instead it's more fruitful to concentration on similarities in implied qulities of human experience. Some traditions [perhaps the majority] state that the real/ultimate/absolute qualities of experience cannot be commented on directly at all, as they can only be lived or experienced directly, and therefore cannot be laid down in doctrine.

  2. Thanks for that clarification. I completely agree. It makes me think that value of comparing may lie more limiting the adherence to doctrine. This could work in a couple of ways. First, doctrines or interpretations of doctrines that are specific to just one religion would be out (so, as an obvious example, the doctrine that believing in Christ is the only way into heaven is clearly wrong). Second, with the exception of some general moral values that most people agree on, it is hard to find similarities between different doctrines unless you interpret them as metaphorically pointing to experiences that, as you say, cannot be commented on directly at all. My own experience was that reading good Christian material caused me to have new insights into the Buddhist material that I had been reading for a long time. But it was not just intellectual, the insights were accompanied by a deep feeling that is difficult to describe. I think this sort of insight is a normal part of progressing on a path and probably for most people the comparison process is not needed, and may even be an impediment. But for some people it might be what's needed to break up the log jam.

    thanks again for the comment