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04.08.11 : This Good Season | Is Enlightenment Gradual Or Sudden? | Intention Of Renunciation | The 'Wu Xia' Koan of Forgiveness

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  • NamoAmituofo
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      The Daily Enlightenment
       Quote: This Good Season

      Spring has hundreds of blossoms,
      Autumn has the (fullest) moon,
      Summer has cooling breezes,
      Winter has snow.
      If there are no useless matters on the mind,
      this is life's good season.

      - Zen Master Wumen


      - 无门禅师

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       Realisation: Is Enlightenment Gradual Or Sudden?

      realisation of the unconditioned
      requires many conditions.

      - Stonepeace 

      When we speak of the word 'enlightenment', what might come to mind is the image of an electric bulb within suddenly switching on, illuminating the darkness of our delusion with the all-pervading light of wisdom. Of course, this happens suddenly, with a sense of great surprise and wonder. If the experience of being enlightened is truly so, is this to say that enlightenment is always sudden in nature? Yes, as above, and no. No, because there is a process of spiritual practice that leads up to the moment of realisation too. As this process is involved, the 'one' moment of illumination is not as 'out of the blue' as we assume. In this sense, enlightenment is gradual too, or graduated. Many of us romanticise the coming of 'one' grand moment of great enlightenment, when our relatively dull minds at the moment takes a mighty leap and springs to new life, similar to what happened to the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree. The truth is, before it arrives, there is hard work needed to get ready, and there are really more 'less enlightening' moments than expected along the way too. In the case of the Buddha, he was already as spiritually ripe as ripe could be, while we need to work harder at further ripening ourselves!

      For a less abstract picture of the process of many gradual enlightenments leading to many sudden enlightenments, imagine a large drinking glass, filled with multiple smaller glasses within, each nested in another, in the manner of Russian (matryoshka) dolls of decreasing sizes placed one inside the other. (The 'Matryoshka Principle' of the interdependence of 'objects within similar objects' appears in nature too, such as the layering of onion skins.) When water, which represents the topping up of the conditions for spiritual insight fill the nested glasses, it first fills the innermost glass, till it brims over. The process of topping up represents the gradual nature of advancing towards enlightenment, while the process of overflowing represents the sudden nature of enlightenment – the moment a great insight 'strikes'. In short, the sudden nature is dependent on the less noticeable gradual nature of change, which can take place over the course of many lifetimes. The combination of past and present diligence explains why some are more 'prone' to sudden insights than others. How quickly one becomes enlightened depends on personal efforts. All is karmically fair and square!

      Truly insightful moments are always sudden and surprising. If they are not so, they would not be true breakthroughs, not significantly insightful enough to effect a life-changing paradigm shift. The Buddha too expressed delightful surprise on the night he attained Buddhahood, when he saw that all beings have Buddha-nature, that they too could realise Buddhahood like he did. When the innermost glass brims over, overflowing with insight, nothing is lost, as the next outer glass begins the process of topping up immediately, to work towards the next greater insight… till the entire large glass of all glasses finally overflows with the greatest insight that encompasses all insights. As such, the process of spiritual cultivation towards Buddhahood is not via the realisation of a single insight, but the culmination of many insights, with each dependent and building upon the previous in a series, leading to the 'grand finale'. Gradual and sudden enlightenments, being parts of the same process, are thus non-dualistic. Again, since how swiftly one stage of insight is realised and leads to the next is conditioned by our diligence in Dharma practice, let us not pine for moments of overflowing illumination, and forget that they are possible only with moments of topping up!

      奇哉奇哉! 一切众生皆有如来智慧德相,

      Wonderful, wonderful! All sentient beings have
      the wise and meritorious signs of Tathagatas (Buddhas),
      but all because of delusions and attachments (now) cannot realise them (yet).

      - The Buddha (Upon Enlightenment)

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       Excerpt: The Intention Of Renunciation

      True renunciation is
      to let go of attachment, aversion and delusion;
      not anything else.


      The Buddha does not demand that everyone leave the household life for the monastery [to further facilitate spiritual cultivation] or ask his followers to discard all sense enjoyments on the spot. The degree to which a person renounces depends on his or her disposition and situation. But what remains as a guiding principle is this: that the attainment of deliverance requires the complete eradication of craving, and progress along the path is accelerated to the extent that one overcomes craving. Breaking free from domination by desire may not be easy, but the difficulty does not abrogate the necessity. Since craving is the origin of dukkha [dissatisfactions], putting an end to dukkha depends on eliminating craving, and that involves directing the mind to renunciation.

      But it is just at this point, when one tries to let go of attachment, that one encounters a powerful inner resistance. The mind does not want to relinquish its hold on the objects to which it has become attached. For such a long time it has been accustomed to gaining, grasping, and holding, that it seems impossible to break these habits by an act of will. One might agree to the need for renunciation, might want to leave attachment behind, but when the call is actually sounded the mind recoils and continues to move in the grip of its desires. [Not all desires are harmful, such as the desire to practise the Dharma.]

      So the problem arises of how to break the shackles of desire. The Buddha does not offer as a solution the method of repression – the attempt to drive desire away with a mind full of fear and loathing. This approach does not resolve the problem but only pushes it below the surface, where it continues to thrive. The tool the Buddha holds out to free the mind from desire is understanding. Real renunciation is not a matter of compelling ourselves to give up things still inwardly cherished, but of changing our perspective on them [to realise they are impermanent and unsubstantial] so that they no longer bind us. When we understand the nature of desire, when we investigate it closely with keen attention, desire falls away by itself, without need for struggle.

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