The words “Buddhism” and “enlightenment” are, at least in the West, tightly connected. “Everyone” knows that the goal–or at least one of the goals–of...

The words “Buddhism” and “enlightenment” are, at least in the West, tightly connected. “Everyone” knows that the goal–or at least one of the goals–of Buddhist practice is “enlightenment.” But what the heck is “enlightenment,” exactly? It’s a tough question, but Dale S. Wright takes it on in his aptly named book What is Buddhist Enlightenment? (Oxford University Press, 2016). Using a kind of Zen approach (my characterization, not his), Wright doesn’t slice and dice the concept in order to come up with some Platonic ideal of “enlightenment.” You won’t find any pithy definition of the idea in the pages of this book. Rather, you’ll discover a wide-ranging exploration of “Buddhist enlightenment”–what it has meant, what it now means, and what it might and even should mean in the future. Buddhists teach that everything is changing all the time, like it or not. So it is, Wright argues, with “Buddhist enlightenment.”

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