enlightenment You are a seeker. You must struggle to find enlightenment. The arduous climb symbolizes that struggle. In dress befitting the nakedness of your soul and your readiness to become a devotee you ascend the mountain. And, finally, just over the last ledge your struggle is to be rewarded. You will meet the enlightened one, an ascetic bearded prophet of great age.

Instead you see a 40 year old hairy man dressed in woman’s underwear, wearing a wig and made up like a hooker, sitting in the lotus position. But then, this astonishingly silly figure speaks the words that his appearance illustrates. And these turn out to be the most profound words imaginable: Disillusionment is enlightenment!

Disillusionment, something mourned by many as the loss of innocence, is declared to be the kernel of enlightenment. By a man whose very appearance embodies disillusionment to the seeker.

The power of this cartoon is of biblical proportions. It is Michaelangelo’s David of cartoons. A masterpiece. Because it speaks profundity through humor.

The pealing away of illusion is surely enlightenment.
And the pealing away of illusion is what disillusionment means.
Disillusionment is enlightenment.


that there is no tooth fairy
that there is no god
that ‘sustainable growth’ is an oxymoron
that “only the dead know the end of war” (G. Santayana)
that safety can never be gaurenteed
. . nor happiness secured
that they are the gifts of fate
as is the passion to change the world
. . or to succor the needy
that righteous indignation is a temper tantrum
that with love comes worry
. . dispelling the illusion that love is only pleasure
that suffering cannot be eliminated by killing desire
that no rules exist for achieving happiness

Are these disillusionments to be mourned? Not at all. Knowing them makes life far more savory. Here are some of them recast

that no rules exist for achieving happiness:
Happiness comes, by the grace of receptive genes, from the chance spray of events impinging on us. A process too complex for any set of rules to embrace. Happiness is to be found without rules. How heartening!

that with love comes worry:
Worry is not always to be eschewed. The worry that love brings is precious. Surely not imaginable by those who have not experienced it. Love’s worries lead to devoted and selfless service – a gift to the server.

that righteous indignation is a temper tantrum:
Who perceives his rage as a temper tantrum – something befitting only children – will curb his anger. People who accept this idea are temperate.

that safety can never be gaurenteed nor happiness secured:
How precious then become safe haven and happiness, things for which to be grateful

that there is no tooth fairy:
This disillusion enables one to become a tooth fairy. As all good parents do for their children losing baby teeth.

Yet, nobody wants to be disillusioned and everyone wants enlightenment.


*The cartoon, by M. Twohy, appeared in one of the Spring 2008 issues of The New Yorker, surely one of the finest publications extant. I scanned the image and offer it here in the hope that I will be granted permission to show it on the grounds that I am extolling its virtues and I derive no financial advantage from doing so.





3 responses to “Enlightenment”

  1. @ Marian

    Thank you for your kind words.

    My attempt at an interactive introduction to symmetry is at:
    Its an effort to answer the question: How is symmetry, something we associate with the shape of objects, connected to theories about the workings of the physical world?

    I became a tooth fairy for each of my children every time one of them lost a baby tooth.

  2. Marian Kelly

    Loved the cartoon! Your site was passed on to me by a friend who thinks I could know more about Symmetry and Group Theory – a real delusion if ever there was one. I flunked kindergarten maths and the world of physics will forever remain incomprehensible to me. Followed you down the list of disillusionments until the tooth fairy when I became confused. Does this mean by inference we think we can become gods – a somewhat grandiose but ancient delusion? I suspect I have misunderstood. Am enjoying your site so shall press on.
    Marian Kelly (illustrator)

  3. Rene de Monchy

    FABULOUS! And so true.