The last question from the Princeton question and answer session was about enlightenment.
"Based on my understanding, from a Buddhist perspective, the reason we exist is for us to become whole by attaining enlightenment and achieving nirvana. My questions are, why do we need to attain enlightenment and what is enlightenment in our lives?"
What do you think people pursue in their lives? Contemplating this question will lead you to conclude that most people pursue freedom and happiness. I believe this is one of the typical characteristics of being human. But how do most of us define freedom and happiness? Most people seek money, high status, and popularity because they believe that these things will bring freedom and happiness. But is this really true? We need money to live on, but it is not a prerequisite for happiness.
How can we become truly happy? How can we be truly free? The answers to these questions are in the teachings of the Buddha. We often perceive being able to do whatever we want as freedom, but this concept of freedom actually causes confinement. If we can be free from ourselves and our desires, then we can get closer to experiencing complete freedom. That is why enlightenment is a prerequisite for freedom and happiness. So, what is enlightenment? It is breaking away from the old beliefs we have about the path to happiness. Simply understanding the concept of enlightenment is not enough if we are still processing our thoughts based upon old beliefs. Enlightenment is breaking out of those beliefs themselves. Thus, the starting point is questioning everything. You cannot accept any belief whatsoever without questioning it first.
Some people seem to understand Buddhism only as an Eastern religion. Some take a mystical approach to Buddhism. Buddhism is not mystical; it is observing the world as it is. Buddhism exists outside the boundaries of religion. However, believing in Buddhism does not guarantee enlightenment.
Now is the time to question the way we lead our lives. For example, does mass production and consumption enable us to live a good life? If the entire human race continues to maintain a life based on mass production and consumption, the end of the world is indeed near. Mass consumerism is not a sustainable form of civilization. It is now time for us to change. It is now time for us to seriously ask ourselves the question, what is happiness?
I wish all of you happiness.