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Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

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Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Humbaba on Sat Nov 05, 2016 9:44 pm

Hi,

According Zen, Hui-neng is supposed to have introduced the idea of sudden enlightenment into Buddhism; however, when we look at the Lankavatara, the sutra already teaches both sudden and gradual enlightenment.

The questions:

- Is the idea of sudden enlightenment started by Hui-neng a myth?
- Does the Lankavatara teach the one over the other?
(It's been some time since I looked at the text, but I have a recollection that this point was somehow not quite clear (at least not to me)).
- Are there earlier precedents for the teaching of sudden enlightenment?

Cheers
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Lunarious1987 on Sat Nov 05, 2016 10:09 pm

I believe sudden enlightenment is for Warriors. They transform not from darkness (or darkness upon darkness) but from light upon light, not simply light. They reduce their fullness.

Peace
- Don't be thankful to be righteous. Be righteous to be thankful.
- Shia: "We are the friends/owners of proof, wherever it bends we bend."
- Imam Hussein was once asked: what is affluence? He said : Decreasing your wishes , and being satisfied with what is enough for you.”
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Caodemarte on Sat Nov 05, 2016 10:42 pm

Humbaba wrote:Hi,

According Zen, Hui-neng is supposed to have introduced the idea of sudden enlightenment into Buddhism; however, when we look at the Lankavatara, the sutra already teaches both sudden and gradual enlightenment.

The questions:

- Is the idea of sudden enlightenment started by Hui-neng a myth?
- Does the Lankavatara teach the one over the other?
(It's been some time since I looked at the text, but I have a recollection that this point was somehow not quite clear (at least not to me)).
- Are there earlier precedents for the teaching of sudden enlightenment?

Cheers



Who said Hui-neng introduced the idea of sudden enlightenment to anything? I simply have never heard this before. I think it fair to say that few Buddhists would say Hui-neng introduced new concepts into Buddhism.
Perhaps you could define how you are using this term to better understand your questions.
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby desert_woodworker on Sun Nov 06, 2016 1:07 am

The Historical Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, awakened suddenly. He awakened under the tree in the dawn on seeing the Morning Star. So goes the account.

Thus, Shakyamuni pre-dated everybody when it came to awakening suddenly, did he not? :heya:

In Ch'an Buddhism, the Sudden School (Southern School: easy to remember: Southern for Sudden), and the Gradual School both have their ways. And gradual (or further progressive) cultivation following awakening is common to both.

--Joe
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby TigerDuck on Sun Nov 06, 2016 2:44 am

The main issue is this gradual and sudden, refer to which one?
1. Realising the true nature of reality?
Or
2. Getting used to that new realisation?

No. 1 is possible

No. 2, no idea.

Through nonconceptuality, he is immovable.

[Nagarjuna]
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Caodemarte on Sun Nov 06, 2016 3:59 am

There is a long standing discussion in Zen that can be better characterized as sudden enlightenment/gradual cultivation vs. sudden enlightenment/sudden cultivation. However, this does not mean that sudden enlightenment/sudden cultivation proponents suddenly stop zazen after "awakening." It does involve the nature of awakening on which both sides agree. It is a very live debate in the higher reaches of Korean Buddhism, but has little practical importance to anyone here (if you'd like to participate, simply become a recognized, highly respected Zen master in the Korean tradition, learn classical Chinese in addition to Korean, master all the commentaries and sutras and Godspeed).

There is a separate historic debate in Chinese Buddhism as a whole about whether or not gradual cultivation is needed over many life times for awakening (which occurs in a moment). As several Chinese Buddhists pointed out, since you don't know how many lifetimes for preparation you have had or others have had before it is kind of pointless to worry about that. Far better to just start doing the work!

There is yet a third sudden/gradual debate about whether or not prepatory practices are essential, useful, or a waste of time. Usually people come down on not essential, useful for some, but a waste of time for others.

So define your terms, pick your debate, and then go back to the cushion to ignore it all!
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Humbaba on Sun Nov 06, 2016 9:33 am

Lunarious1987 wrote:I believe sudden enlightenment is for Warriors.

That's too bad, I'm a pacifist.

Caodemarte wrote:Who said Hui-neng introduced the idea of sudden enlightenment to anything? I simply have never heard this before.

I was referring to the poetry contest between Shenxiu and Huineng ("polishing the mirror" versus "there is no mirror")

Caodemarte wrote:Perhaps you could define how you are using this term to better understand your questions.


The Lanka has: 淨非。 I.e. gradual (漸) purification, not sudden (頓), and then goes on to compare it to various natural processes that occur gradually.

The text then states that 譬如明鏡現一切無相色像。I.e., it is like a mirror indiscriminately and suddenly reflecting forms and images.

From this I conclude that that Lankavatara teaches both sudden and gradual enlightenment. But I'm no scholar.

desert_woodworker wrote:The Historical Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, awakened suddenly.

I know. I was looking for textual references about gradual versus sudden as those I cited above.

desert_woodworker wrote:In Ch'an Buddhism, the Sudden School (Southern School: easy to remember: Southern for Sudden), and the Gradual School both have their ways.

Perhaps the two always coexisted, or take turns in which is more predominant.

TigerDuck wrote:The main issue is this gradual and sudden, refer to which one?
1. Realising the true nature of reality?
Or
2. Getting used to that new realisation?

It boggles the mind.
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Caodemarte on Sun Nov 06, 2016 3:38 pm

Humbaba wrote:
Caodemarte wrote:Who said Hui-neng introduced the idea of sudden enlightenment to anything? I simply have never heard this before.

I was referring to the poetry contest between Shenxiu and Huineng ("polishing the mirror" versus "there is no mirror")

Caodemarte wrote:Perhaps you could define how you are using this term to better understand your questions.


The Lanka has: 淨非。 I.e. gradual (漸) purification, not sudden (頓), and then goes on to compare it to various natural processes that occur gradually.

The text then states that 譬如明鏡現一切無相色像。I.e., it is like a mirror indiscriminately and suddenly reflecting forms and images.

From this I conclude that that Lankavatara teaches both sudden and gradual enlightenment. But I'm no scholar.

desert_woodworker wrote:The Historical Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, awakened suddenly.

I know. I was looking for textual references about gradual versus sudden as those I cited above.

desert_woodworker wrote:In Ch'an Buddhism, the Sudden School (Southern School: easy to remember: Southern for Sudden), and the Gradual School both have their ways.

Perhaps the two always coexisted, or take turns in which is more predominant.


The poetry contest may be a literary invention, but the perhaps mythical winning poem seems to be more about a more refined re-statement of basic Madhyamaka (and hence Zen) if you want a philosophical reading. It does not introduce any new idea. The doctrinal dispute between the Southern and Northern schools was largely invented by Shenhui and the actual "rivalry" seems mostly about lineage. Modern scholars point out that there was little actual doctrinal or even teaching difference. If we take Shenhui's partisan accusations as accurate after we boil out the insults, we get the impression that his school was more Sudden Cultivation than his more successful contemporary rivals, at worse, were more Gradual Cultivation, but both were Sudden Enlightenment. However, modern scholars do not take the accusations seriously as they are not supported by the remaining teachings of that school which seem more or less identical with its rival.

So the Sutra of the 6th Patriarch is a great religious document (it may have been cobbled together from Hui-neng's preachings), but a lousy historical one. Even as that, it does not claim that Hui-neng introduced any new idea (that would be a serious criticism; innovation was usually considered corruption). The idea of sudden enlightenment seems baked in since the Buddha got the Wheel of Teaching going that long ago morning. So if you are looking for the earliest textual references you could start with the Nikayas or Agamas.

The Lanka (and the Zen school is the Lanka school) may be read to teach gradual cultivation and sudden enlightenment, but I don't see how it would support gradual enlightenment (assuming you are using the word enlightenment as a description for awakening events, like Hui-neng's or the Buddha's).

Character and personality can be improved gradually or suddenly, but that is not enlightenment in the Buddhist sense.

Anyway, those are my current views which may turn out to be ill informed.
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Caodemarte on Sun Nov 06, 2016 8:34 pm

On a side note, if anyone is interested in how debates on sudden or gradual approaches to enlightenment (which itself is sudden) played out in China you might want to see " Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought"
Ed. by Peter N. Gregory
Motilal Banarsidass Publ., Jan 1, 1991
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Michaeljc on Sun Nov 06, 2016 9:28 pm

Zen Buddhism is purely about practice in which regular Zazen is the only indispensable component

We cannot know where this will take us: gradual, sudden, if or if not, are just useless preconceptions that just muddy the water

As I see it right now

m
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Re: Gradual versus sudden enlightenment

Postby Caodemarte on Sun Nov 06, 2016 10:07 pm

I agree that speculation and philosophy can become a rabbit hole that we fall down. However, it also can be useful, especially as the discussion has practice implications.
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