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Some heroes train non-stop to develop Charles Atlas Superpowers, often using Training From Hell to attain herculean feats of skill. But... will defeating a dojo full of ninjas while blindfolded and bound in chains reveal the meaning of suffering? How many miles have to be run over liquid magma without breaking the surface before the purpose of life unfolds?

The master of Enlightenment Superpowers knows.

After years of spiritual introspection, countless hours of intellectual debate, searches both academic and personal, the mysteries of existence begin to unfold. Or it could all happen in a bolt of (divine?) lightning. It doesn't necessarily have to be tied to any one religion, it's entirely possible for the revelation to be fathomable by an atheist or secular character. Then again, maybe it's all the meditating that unlocks the full use of the brain or makes it gain critical mass, giving practitioners Super Intelligence or Psychic Powers like: Astral Projection, access to past life memories and skills, levitation, and Aura Vision courtesy of their Third Eye chakra.

Physically, since All Monks Know Kung Fu, their mental harmony and discipline means they can likely control their body's autonomic functions... possibly even unlocking Healing Factors, iron durability, incredible longevity, Super Strength, and very probably Ki Attacks.

Because Magic Is Mental, these two tropes often overlap: the best wizards are the wisest and the smartest.

Characters with Enlightenment Superpowers usually know some type of Functional Magic courtesy of their training, though it's entirely possible they can't cast any magic at all (or both sets of abilities are independent but related). To use a computer metaphor, their abilities don't come from using cosmic cheat codes, but thanks to discovering (or creating) the help file and user manual. Basically, they have learned to harness all of their human potential.

Interestingly, not all characters with Enlightenment Superpowers are good. It's sometimes the case that they decide that Might Makes Right and as the strongest, they can do as they please. And that's if they don't delve into Blue and Orange Morality. Generally though characters who achieve this enlightened state are highly grounded, hard to upset, and very moral. Still, Beware the Nice Ones, because they have a Meditation Powerup.

Compare and contrast Power Born of Madness.

Examples of Enlightenment Superpowers include:


Anime & Manga Edit

  • Virgo Shaka of Saint Seiya lives In a setting full of Charles Atlas Superpowers but thanks to his Enlightenment Superpowers is one of the most feared, dangerous adversaries imaginable. He can create deadly illusions that will Mind Rape enemies from miles away, send them to Hell (or Heaven!), destroy their senses rendering them comatose, and even be more dangerous dead than alive. It helps that he's the reincarnation of a Buddha.
  • All the shamans in Shaman King have this to some degree. Hao, the most enlightened and powerful of all, decided that to create utopia all the ignorant humans have to die, leaving only shamans to populate the world.
  • After years of contemplation, fallen Buddhist monk Anji of Rurouni Kenshin learned the principal that allowed him to develop the Futae no Kiwami attack, a powerful punch that can turn rocks into dust.
  • Food Honor in Toriko.


Comic Books Edit

  • This was the entire premise of the Charlton character Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. His Watchmen equivalent, Ozymandias, doesn't quite fit the archetype, though.
  • Most comic book magicians qualify, at least the ones who don't go down the "worship dark gods/sell your soul" paths. Doctor Strange, for example, or for a much earlier example, the Green Lama.
  • Zora in the comic Powers is an inversion. By rejecting all spirituality and realizing she is "her own god", she gained godlike powers.
  • A good half of Kaliman's powers came from his intense mental and spiritual training in the orient. The other half? Sheer Badassitude.
  • In Spawn, Harry Houdini discovered real magic in a moment of extreme focus required to pull off one of his escapologist tricks.
  • The Contemplator, one of the Elders of the Universe in the Marvel Universe. His study of meditation, philosophy and mental/spiritual development gave him powers such as telepathy, mental domination of others, precognition, telekinesis, levitation, and astral projection.
  • David X in Casanova went into meditative seclusion as a performance artist. Twelve years later, he emerged as a low-grade Physical God.


Film Edit

  • In Star Wars the Jedi are famous for this, especially Jedi Master Yoda and later on, Luke Skywalker. The connection to the Force allows abilities such as My Significance Sense Is Tingling, the ability to heal, and for those who fall to the influence of The Dark Side, Lightning Can Do Anything
  • Neo of The Matrix definitely qualifies as this, particularly when he becomes The One. The many Buddhist and Christological allusions for Neo throughout the entire series range from subtlely added to pounding in your ears with its Sanskrit-based musical score in the final movie.
    • All of the disconnected humans use this to bend and break the physical laws within the Matrix. The Oracle and her weird kids live this trope, because "There is no spoon".
  • Lamont Cranston in The Shadow learned how to "cloud men's minds", among other abilities.
  • The Sphinx in the film version of Mystery Men is a parody of this character type, and speaks entirely in Ice Cream Koan. He's also a straight example, since he really can slice guns in half with his mind as he claims.
  • In The Men Who Stare at Goats, the training doctrine of the New Earth Army was designed to trigger this, gaining the powers of remote viewing, invisibility, walking through walls and the sparkling eyes technique while delving into Eastern mysticisim.


Literature Edit

  • The mental/physical Schools of Frank Herbert's Dune exemplify this, especially the Bene Gesserit, who have attained complete control over their own bodies as well as other abilities that cause people to consider them to be "witches".
  • All the alleged gods in Lord of Light have this as the source of their Psychic Powers -- then they augment them even more with Sufficiently Advanced Technology.
  • Neal Stephenson pulled this trick in Anathem, suitably foreshadowed by monks who do know kung fu.
  • Siddhartha, founder of Buddhism, of course. All kinds of miracles were attributed to him -- some even before he got enlightened, but many more afterward.
  • In Time Scout, this is hinted to be the source of Ianira's Psychic Powers and explicitly stated to be the source of Jack the Ripper's.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Rand was always a scarily powerful Channeler, but it was plain that the rigors of his role and magic were taking a terrible toll on him, nearly driving him to insanity and nihilism until he has an epiphany at the end of Book 12 which brings him close to what might be called enlightenment, making him The Messiah in truth as well as title and dramatically amping up his powers (though he's still weaker than the Big Bad, who's an actual god). His Evil Counterpart Moridin has what could be classed as an evil version of this- a true nihilist, he's the closest of all mortals to the Big Bad's goals and methods, and as such is the only one allowed to access his special magic system, the True Power. The True Power, though not any stronger than the One Power (which fuels most magic-users), is exempt from some of its restrictions and can do things it can't.

Live Action TV Edit

  • Adam McArthur of The Visitor has learned a lot during his time in alien custody. Once an Episode, he teaches one of his Enlightenment Superpowers to someone.
  • Stargate SG-1 takes this approach: the closer one gets to Ascension (sort of a parallel for enlightenment, and somewhat based on Zen Buddhist belief), the more power over nature one gains. People on the cusp of Ascending were shown to gain psychic powers, heal people, etc., and actually Ascended beings had complete control over the natural universe.
  • A one-time foe on Angel: a girl who combined this with removing her own eyes, to gain the ability to see a second or so into the future. Plus some martial arts training to be a super-assassin-for-hire. Well, until they discovered her weakness.


Tabletop Games Edit

  • In Mage: The Ascension and Mage: The Awakening get their reality warping magic thanks to an out of the blue epiphany regarding the nature of reality. This epiphany is natural, but has little discernible rhyme or reason or blood connection. To a similar extent, the less powerful Thaumaturges potentially (it's complicated) derive the ability to use magic not from innate supernatural connections, but from intense and prolonged spiritual and occult study. Of course, this being the World Of Darkness spiritual enlightenment doesn't necessarily require morality.
    • In Vampire: The Masquerade, even the damned can find Enlightenment Superpowers. Saulot, a founder of one of the (now defunct) thirteen vampire clans, traveled to the orient and studied under enlightened supernaturals, returning with mystic healing powers of mind and body... as well as a Third Eye he and all his children would inherit.
    • The successor, Vampire: The Requiem, has its own version. The Ordo Dracul is a covenant devoted to transcending the vampiric condition, just like their founder did. By studying and meditating on their condition, they gain access to Coils of the Dragon, powers that lessen their reliance on blood, allow them to pass as human, or give them a greater resistance to the unpleasant stimuli that often harrow other vampires.
  • In the obscure game "In Dark Alleys", which can best be described as "The Matrix meets J-Horror meets Kult", people with a powerful enough force of will and a clear enough understanding of reality (long story short, it's all in your mind) can break the laws of physics at a whim.


Video Games Edit

  • This is how Prince Poo in Earthbound gets two critical level ups. Coupled with a Journey to the Center of the Mind, it's also how Ness gets his biggest level up of the game going into the Grand Finale.
  • Many Shoto Clones in the Fighting Game genre get backstories like this, most notably the Street Fighter characters Ryu and Akuma/Gouki.
  • Great Tiger of the Punch Out series, especially in the Wii version.
  • The Monk class in the MMORPG Dungeons and Dragons Online use ki to charge their attacks, leap great distances, heal friends or curse enemies. One variant can even kill in a single ki-juicy punch. The religious aspects of DDO gameplay, compared to its tabletop counterpart, are very watered down for Monks and other classes, however.
  • Nin 2 Jump: The Big Bad, Namakura, is a Buddha.
  • In the Fate/stay night visual novels, the teacher Kuzuki is one of the evil types - his perfect balance within himself and the world (even Sabre expresses her surprise at his "perfect breathing") combine with an extremely esoteric martial arts style to enable him to hold his own even with a Servant in hand to hand combat, though he is not particularly concerned with the traditional trappings of enlightenment.
  • The Graybeards in Skyrim devote their lives to studying the Thu'um. This regimen is pretty much the only way mortals can learn and master the Thu'um. The Dragonborn doesn't have to go through this because he/she isn't an ordinary mortal.


Webcomics Edit

  • The story behind Supernatural Martial Arts of El Goonish Shive. Not unlike the great masters of old times, sensei Greg was a martial artist who concentrated his mind on an issue not related to anything in this world at all, for hours and hours, without a pause, until everything became clear. And yes, he invented the new style, not to mention one more approach to his world's Functional Magic. That being sensei Greg, this means he watched anime 168 hours non-stop and, accordingly, created "Anime-Style Martial Arts".
    • He later closes the school because he realizes that the only people his approach is working for are Elliot and Nanase, later revealed to be magic users.
      • That, and he's justifiably worried about the possibility of it working for someone who isn't quite as nice as they are.


Western Animation Edit

  • On Batman the Brave And The Bold, Batman (trapped and buried in a coffin) demonstrated he could use Astral Projection and body possession thanks to his time training in meditation.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, a guru reveals to Aang that through spiritual enlightenment, and realeasing his chakras, he can control the Avatar State and go in and out at will. Before this point, Aang can only go into it if he's scared, angry, or psychically aligned with a vengeful water god.
  • A major theme in The Legend of Korra is the inability of Korra, the new Avatar and Aang's Reincarnation, to access the spiritual powers associated with being the Avatar. She focuses on the physical side of bending, much to the dismay of her mentors.

 Korra: I haven't ignored [the spiritual side of bending], it just... doesn't come as easy to me.


Real Life Edit

  • The monks of the Chán[1] Buddhist temple of Shaolin are most well known for their martial arts skills, although this is somewhat of a case of real life Memetic Badass. Even so, Shaolin monks are extremely skilled martial artists and can do feats of strength, dexterity, and focus that seem superhuman -- all due to spending tens of thousands of hours training in martial arts as a form of meditation.
  • While we're on the subject, meditation in general -- Zazen, Yoga, etc. Zen Buddhism, for example, takes the position that if you can focus on something as boring as sitting in a room staring at nothing all day (Zazen), then you can focus on, say, the best path to get out of a moving car in a big hurry, or how to dodge a sucker punch at a bar. While it won't make a person superhuman, one should never underestimate the ability to focus when needed.
  • Some sects of Buddhism believe that a person actually will gain supernatural powers as he approaches enlightenment. Of course, if you go into meditation for the sole purpose of gaining these powers, it won't work. The powers are sort of a "side effect" of enlightenment; anyone who is that close to enlightenment knows he has no need of such things. There are statements from Gautama Buddha himself indicating that supernatural powers distract from enlightenment if obtained first, which prevents beings like gods and demons from becoming enlightened.
  • Theurgy and Theosophy in general. Of course, you start the rituals before you've reached enlightment.

Notes

  1. Better known as the Japanese term, "Zen", in the west