There is an appearance of different enlightenments because everyone is not using the same definition of enlightenment. You have to first define enlightenment. I define it as a radical and permanent change of our identification. Basically, we see through the mirage called “ego” and are never fooled by the mirage again. With seeing through this illusion and seeing it for what it is, there is an end to seeking and suffering (like problems, fear/worries, guilt, etc).
In my case, I awakened and it was unlike anything I had read about or studied prior. After awakening, I read works by Ramana Maharshi, H.W.L. Poonja, Nisargatta Maharaj, Ramesh Balsekar, Zen Master Bankei, Huang Po, Bodhidharma, Robert Adams, Gangaji, Adyashanti, and more.
I was looking for a bit of confirmation, but more importantly I was looking for terminology so I could talk about it. I was also looking for the consistency or lack there-of regarding what enlightenment was.
In reading from many teachers, many of whom are/were considered enlightened, I found that they all had the same insight and realization as I did. The way they each described it resonated with my own realization. I understood what they were talking about. I did not feel they were describing or talking about something different than what I realized.
I had studied Buddhism and Taoism at a very general level in college in a world religions class. I remembered that the Buddha focused on suffering and seeing through the illusions of the mind. I remembered that Lao Tzu focused on the Tao and harmony with the Tao. After awakening, when I reread works in Buddhism and Taoism, they made perfect sense and coincided with what I understood. I could see it was all pointing at the same thing. Described differently at different times and different places, but all still pointing at the same thing.
Later, when I started speaking with others about nonduality…I had a tagline online that said, “nonduality, as seen in the traditions of Advaita Vedanta, Zen Buddhism, Jnana Yoga, Taoism, etc.” I saw them as various traditions all pointing at the same thing. Changes in terminology and way things are presented, but I saw them all pointing to the very same enlightenment. The seeing through the illusions of the mind and seeing what is as it truly is. This involves seeing through this fictitious “me”.
Other traditions also teach the same or very similar things. The most basic question since probably the beginning of our species is, “who am I?” It is the realization of the answer to that question that we call enlightenment. We clearly see we are not a body-mind and not something separate from the world.
Hinduism tends to focus on the Self (Atman) and Buddhism tends to focus on not-self (anatman). So some may claim that the two are mutually exclusive and enlightenment could not be the same for everyone. However, the Buddha came from Hinduism and saw too much focus placed on the Self and people trying to grasp onto a continuing self. To counter-act this trap people can fall into by attaching to the idea of continued self (a permanent self), the Buddha taught there was no permanent self…or an individual “me” that will carry on. Of course, Buddhism over the many years since the Buddha died began to get attached to the idea of the void and nothingness. So when Chan and Zen Buddhism started, the concept was voidless-void and that emptiness is form and form is emptiness. Again, as a way to counter-act the attachment to the concept of void and the trap people who are attached to it fall into.
This is what happens when you use inherently dualistic words to describe or point towards the nondualistic. Some times you have to say exactly the opposite of what you just said to get the point across. In the controversy of atman versus anatman, the true answer is not atman, nor anatman, nor both, nor neither.
People may have different thoughts and beliefs, but when thoughts and beliefs are absent…the same silence is experienced. When you ask yourself, “who am I?”, in that silence – without thinking or seeking an answer – a realization may occur as it reveals itself to itself. That realization (which is enlightenment) is the same for all. The resulting end to seeking and suffering (like problems, fear/worries, guilt, etc) is the same for all.