The Search for Enlightenment

“IGNORANCE is never better than knowledge,” stated Laura Fermi, wife of the renowned physicist Enrico Fermi. Some may disagree, arguing that what you don’t know will never hurt you. For most, however, the observation holds true, not just in the field of scientific research but also in other areas of life. Ignorance, in the sense of being unaware of the truth, has left many people stumbling around in intellectual, moral, and spiritual darkness for centuries.​—Ephesians 4:18.

That is why thinking people search for enlightenment. They want to know why we are here and where we are going. Their search has led them down many different paths. Let us briefly consider some of them.

Through a Religious Path?

According to Buddhist tradition, Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was deeply disturbed by human suffering and death. He asked Hindu religious teachers to help him find “the way of truth.” Some recommended yoga and extreme self-denial. Gautama ultimately chose a process of intense personal meditation as the way to true enlightenment.

Others have used mind-altering drugs in their search for enlightenment. Today, for example, members of the Native American Church describe peyote​—a cactus that contains a hallucinogenic substance—​as a “revealer of hidden knowledge.”

Eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that any sincere inquirer can receive a personal spiritual revelation from God. How? By listening to “what God says to the heart.” Then, how you feel about things​—what your emotions and conscience tell you—​will become “a more assured guide in this immense labyrinth of human opinions,” said Rousseau.​—History of Western Philosophy.

Through the Power of Reason?

Many of Rousseau’s contemporaries vehemently disagreed with that kind of religious approach. Fellow Frenchman Voltaire, for example, felt that religion, far from enlightening people, had been the prime factor in plunging Europe into centuries of ignorance, superstition, and intolerance during the period that some historians call the Dark Ages.

Voltaire became part of a European rationalist movement known as the Enlightenment. Its followers  returned to the ideas of the ancient Greeks​—namely, that human reason and scientific investigation are the keys to true enlightenment. Another member of the rationalist movement, Bernard de Fontenelle, felt that human reason on its own would lead mankind to “a century which will become more enlightened day by day, so that all previous centuries will be lost in darkness by comparison.”​—Encyclopædia Britannica.

These are just some of the many conflicting ideas about how to gain enlightenment. Is there really any “assured guide” that we can turn to in our search for truth? Consider what the following article has to say about the trustworthy source of enlightenment.

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Gautama (Buddha), Rousseau, and Voltaire took different paths in search of enlightenment