The Buddha said in the Diamond Sutra that he attained anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (unexcelled, complete, awakening) without attaining anything. Sound confusing? It can be. Let’s first keep in mind that Buddhism is about removing what is adventitious and illusory. If your white shirt gets stained, you remove the stain which is extrinsic to the white shirt. No need to make a new shirt. Almost the same, we only need to remove the illusion—especially, our attachment to the illusory—that makes enlightenment seem unattained which causes us to set about to attain it. It is the removal of illusion or what is extrinsic to pure Mind that is important, not attainment. The minute the illusion is removed, pure Mind appears.
To awaken from our illusory dream means to be completely free of the dream we were previously in. On the other hand, if in our dream we attain enlightenment, it would not be real enlightenment but, instead, a dream enlightenment. The Buddha in the Diamond Sutra should have said, “unexcelled, complete, awakening from the dream.” Worthy of brief mention, from the Dhammasangani commentary we learn that “awakening” (bodhane [√BUDH]) “is to rise from the slumber of the continuum of the lower nature, or a penetrating the aryan truths, or a realizing nirvana.”
After we awaken from our nightmare the difference between being in the dream and awakening is, needless to say, striking and worlds apart. We might reconsider that Buddhism is warning us about rebirth as being more about going from one dream to another dream, never completely awakening; always oppressed by an illusion so pervasive that is seems there is no escape. But of course there is an escape which is only to be found in the very stuff that dreams are made from which is inconceivable; that cannot be dreamed. We arrive here, so to speak, by letting go of the dream/illusion, suddenly.