Spiritual enlightenment is typically a very vague notion for most people. The most common thought is that some mysterious inner part of you, usually a form of the soul, becomes spiritually enlightened. In Taoism, rather than start with a presumption, one should start with a question. In this case, that is “What part of you becomes enlightened?”
The true Taoist answer is different than the common assumption and very simple, “All of You.”
“All of You” means something simple: you are your body. This was the first presumption of Taoism in its many thousand year history of practice, and was manifested in the Taoist immortality movement that occupied practice for centuries.
Why does All of You Become Enlightened?
We experience the world through our bodies. We know the world through our bodies and we interact with the world through our bodies.
The body is not a jar for the soul that the soul must escape from to be released. The object of enlightenment is not to further the escape of the soul.
Your mind does lead the journey to enlightenment. If the body is significantly flawed, it is extremely difficult for the spiritual journey to be successful.
Unfortunate Implications for Enlightenment
What does that mean?
Well, if you experience traumatic brain injury you will not become enlightened. If you are under the influence of debilitating illness, you won’t become enlightened. In fact, if you are dramatically out of shape or low on energy, you won’t become enlightened. Making spiritual gains requires a relatively healthy body, a strong mind, and a decent quantity of qi.
Is it true that body limits keep you from spiritual enlightenment?
Yes and no.
Any body damage puts a significant damper on your ability to move forward. It’s like trying to walk over a hill carrying very large weights. It may be doable by some, but certainly the journey becomes so difficult that most will never make it.
Taoists are very practical and have applied energy to fixing this problem to help people remove these body limitations.
Solutions to Body Limits
For thousands of years, Taoists have designed tools to restore your body, mind and qi. That’s why you see the broad array of kung fu, qi gong, and health practices. You should be able to undo most of the foolish and accidental expenditures of your body and mind that occurred during your youth.
In the 4 Ascendant Taoist Tradition, these practices of the second sphere (that of the body) and the third sphere (that of the qi) are there to help you free yourself from these limits. Any 4 Ascendant practitioner should vigorously apply him or herself to these spheres to increase the chance of personal freedom (a.k.a spiritual enlightenment).
Difficulties With the Idea of the Body Achieving Spiritual Enlightenment
Many times people can have difficulty believing that enlightenment comes from and is acquired within the body. This is often due to conflation (i.e. mixing up) of ideas of soul jar religions, and Western pop spirituality with Taoist ideas. In this conflation, it seems as if the 4 Ascendant is making a statement about the value of a being–mostly that a person or a thing is valueless if the body is not able to make the journey toward enlightenment.
Let me make this clear (and it is clear if you read the collected articles on enlightenment here), nothing is further from the truth. First, enlightenment is not a reward presented to you for having lived well. Second, enlightenment does not suggest a greater value of being. There is no difference in value between an enlightened and unenlightened individual. Enlightenment is not a contest used to sort being.