Sudden Buddhahood?

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Thomas Amundsen
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Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Thomas Amundsen » Thu Jun 29, 2017 12:31 am

Forgive me for not being knowledgeable about Ch'an or its history. So, I am vaguely aware of a controversy between sudden and gradual approaches in Ch'an. I am also vaguely aware that perhaps this distinction changed over time. At any point, did Ch'an masters advocate for sudden enlightenment being perfect Buddhahood? Or is it simply kensho?

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Anonymous X » Thu Jun 29, 2017 5:50 am

tomamundsen wrote:Forgive me for not being knowledgeable about Ch'an or its history. So, I am vaguely aware of a controversy between sudden and gradual approaches in Ch'an. I am also vaguely aware that perhaps this distinction changed over time. At any point, did Ch'an masters advocate for sudden enlightenment being perfect Buddhahood? Or is it simply kensho?
I know of no other book than Zongmi On Chan, which describes succinctly, the various schools of Ch'an and its relationship to sudden vs step by step approaches and how it all ties into Buddhanature. It's worth a serious look if you are interested in this.

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by krodha » Thu Jun 29, 2017 7:28 am

tomamundsen wrote:At any point, did Ch'an masters advocate for sudden enlightenment being perfect Buddhahood? Or is it simply kensho?
I've seen people argue for the former. Seems misguided and unrealistic to me...

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Temicco » Thu Jun 29, 2017 8:54 am

krodha wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:At any point, did Ch'an masters advocate for sudden enlightenment being perfect Buddhahood? Or is it simply kensho?
I've seen people argue for the former. Seems misguided and unrealistic to me...
People hold that stance due to 1) a discrepancy regarding how being a "Buddha" is understood, and 2) a lack of discussion of post-awakening practice in Tang dynasty Zen texts associated with Huineng's line, as well as in most gongan collections.

(Thomas, it's because of quotes like "If you can attain true insight, clear and complete, then, indeed, that is all." (Linji) and "Only come to know the nature of your own Mind, in which there is no self and no other, and you will in fact be a Buddha!" (Huangbo). In a large number of Zen texts there's simply nothing to suggest that anything needs to be done after awakening, and only discussion of a single leap to the state of Buddha.)

I've posted this before, but if anyone has doubts regarding whether Chan does indeed teach post-awakening cultivation of insight, check out Shenhui's teachings, Yingan's teachings, Guishan's admonitions, Foyan's teachings (kind of), Yuanwu's letters, Dahui's letters, and Hongzhi's practice instructions. In Japanese Rinzai obviously it's very clear that gradual cultivation is needed after wakening.
"Deliberate upon that which does not deliberate."
-Yaoshan Weiyan

"Right now if students are in fact truly genuine, source teachers can contact their potential and activate it with a single word or phrase, or a single act or scene."
-Yuanwu Keqin

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Astus » Thu Jun 29, 2017 11:37 am

tomamundsen wrote:I am vaguely aware of a controversy between sudden and gradual approaches in Ch'an.
There wasn't really such a controversy, it was something made up initially by Shenhui to criticise Shenxiu's descendants. But that's like charging Buddhists with idolatry.
At any point, did Ch'an masters advocate for sudden enlightenment being perfect Buddhahood? Or is it simply kensho?
First of all, "kensho" means "seeing nature" and seeing nature is becoming buddha, even if some teachers have altered the meaning and came up with this distinction of "kensho" and "satori", the classic doctrine is as it's been stated from the beginning. As it's in the "Bloodstream Sermon" of Bodhidharma (tr Red Pine): "To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature. Whoever sees his nature is a Buddha." (X63n1218, p2b19) "To find a Buddha all you have to do is see your nature. Your nature is the Buddha." (p2c3-4) "Whoever sees his nature is a Buddha; whoever doesn’t is a mortal." (p2c19)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Wayfarer » Thu Jun 29, 2017 11:50 am

To which I might add, 'Buddha doesn't reside in what we expect the Buddha to be'.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Astus » Thu Jun 29, 2017 12:13 pm

Temicco wrote:a lack of discussion of post-awakening practice in Tang dynasty Zen texts associated with Huineng's line, as well as in most gongan collections.
There is no post-awakening practice aside from the practice of awakening itself. This is clarified by Jinul, a known advocate of "sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation" very well:

"Nevertheless, although you must cultivate further, you have already awakened suddenly to the fact that deluded thoughts are originally void and the mind-nature is originally pure. Thus you eradicate evil, but you eradicate it without actually eradicating anything; you cultivate the wholesome, but you cultivate it without actually cultivating anything. This is true cultivation and true eradication."
(Moguja’s Secrets on Cultivating the Mind, in Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, vol 2, p 226-227)

"One has the sudden awakening to the fact that one’s nature is originally free of affliction and that one is originally in full possession of the uncontaminated (anāsrava) wisdom-nature that is no different from that of the buddhas. To cultivate while relying on this [awakening] is called Supreme-Vehicle Seon; it is also called the pure Seon of the tathāgatas. If thought-moment after thought-moment one continues to develop one’s training, then naturally one will gradually attain to hundreds of thousands of samādhis."
(p 227)

"Some people do not realize that the nature of merit and demerit is empty; they sit rigidly without moving and suppress both body and mind, like a rock crushing grass. To regard this as cultivation of the mind is a great delusion."
(p 228)

"If you claim, “Initially control conditioned thought with calmness and subsequently control dullness with alertness; these initial and subsequent counteractive techniques subdue both dullness and agitation and one thereby will access quiescence”: this is [samādhi and prajñā] as practiced by those of inferior faculties in the gradual school. Although [this approach also] claims that alertness and calmness should be maintained equally, it cannot avoid clinging to stillness as its practice."
(p 230-231)

"In the case of an accomplished person, the meaning of maintaining samādhi and prajñā equally does not involve any specific activity, for he is inherently spontaneous and unconcerned about place or time."
(p 231)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Temicco » Thu Jun 29, 2017 4:12 pm

Astus wrote:
Temicco wrote:a lack of discussion of post-awakening practice in Tang dynasty Zen texts associated with Huineng's line, as well as in most gongan collections.
There is no post-awakening practice aside from the practice of awakening itself. This is clarified by Jinul, a known advocate of "sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation" very well
Yes, I just brought it up because in TB usually a "Buddha" is someone with 24/7 samadhi, whereas in Zen it is just someone who has had samadhi at all. "Samadhi" here obviously being in the jianxing sense. Many Zen texts make it sound like you have an initial entrance and then you're done, but luckily people like Yuanwu and Dahui and Bankei clarify that in fact one has to be very careful to work on sustaining ones realization after that in order to really benefit.
"Deliberate upon that which does not deliberate."
-Yaoshan Weiyan

"Right now if students are in fact truly genuine, source teachers can contact their potential and activate it with a single word or phrase, or a single act or scene."
-Yuanwu Keqin

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Thomas Amundsen » Thu Jun 29, 2017 5:26 pm

Interesting discussion so far. Thanks!

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Thomas Amundsen » Thu Jun 29, 2017 6:01 pm

Astus wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:I am vaguely aware of a controversy between sudden and gradual approaches in Ch'an.
There wasn't really such a controversy, it was something made up initially by Shenhui to criticise Shenxiu's descendants. But that's like charging Buddhists with idolatry.
At any point, did Ch'an masters advocate for sudden enlightenment being perfect Buddhahood? Or is it simply kensho?
First of all, "kensho" means "seeing nature" and seeing nature is becoming buddha, even if some teachers have altered the meaning and came up with this distinction of "kensho" and "satori", the classic doctrine is as it's been stated from the beginning. As it's in the "Bloodstream Sermon" of Bodhidharma (tr Red Pine): "To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature. Whoever sees his nature is a Buddha." (X63n1218, p2b19) "To find a Buddha all you have to do is see your nature. Your nature is the Buddha." (p2c3-4) "Whoever sees his nature is a Buddha; whoever doesn’t is a mortal." (p2c19)
Hi Astus,

So are you effectively saying that Ch'an is entirely a sudden school? And that the "controversy" was more about polemics of accusing other schools as being gradual (inferior)?

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Astus » Thu Jun 29, 2017 9:34 pm

tomamundsen wrote:So are you effectively saying that Ch'an is entirely a sudden school? And that the "controversy" was more about polemics of accusing other schools as being gradual (inferior)?
Yes. Also note that the idea of a sudden teaching is not exclusive to Chan, but applies to Tiantai and Huayan as well.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Thomas Amundsen » Thu Jun 29, 2017 10:33 pm

Astus wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:So are you effectively saying that Ch'an is entirely a sudden school? And that the "controversy" was more about polemics of accusing other schools as being gradual (inferior)?
Yes. Also note that the idea of a sudden teaching is not exclusive to Chan, but applies to Tiantai and Huayan as well.
Wow, I didn't realize it was that widespread! :thanks:

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Jun 30, 2017 3:07 am

Astus wrote:"Some people do not realize that the nature of merit and demerit is empty; they sit rigidly without moving and suppress both body and mind, like a rock crushing grass. To regard this as cultivation of the mind is a great delusion."
I'm interested in the apparent conflict between this statement, and the often-observed practice in Buddhist monasteries, where zazen does indeed comprise long hours of sitting motionless in dhyana, according to many accounts.

From the description of Robert Boswell's account of his time in a Korean Monastery, 'The Zen Monastic Experience':
Although meditators comprise only a small percentage of the monks (with the rest devoted to support activities or ritual), their efforts astonishing: sitting in meditation for 14 hours a day; for one week a year, sitting seven days straight without sleep; engaging in such severe practices as extensive fasting, never lying down to sleep, and the frowned-upon but ever-popular practice of burning off their fingers (a`symbolic commitment'').
Why do you think in some places, the idea of 'sitting motionless' is admonished, but in other places, it seems to be regarded as fundamental to Zen practice?
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by ItsRaining » Fri Jun 30, 2017 3:53 am

tomamundsen wrote:
Astus wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:So are you effectively saying that Ch'an is entirely a sudden school? And that the "controversy" was more about polemics of accusing other schools as being gradual (inferior)?
Yes. Also note that the idea of a sudden teaching is not exclusive to Chan, but applies to Tiantai and Huayan as well.
Wow, I didn't realize it was that widespread! :thanks:
Chinese Buddhism is pretty heavily influenced by the Tathagatagharba/Buddha Nature teachings so Sudden Enlightenment from "Kensho", "JianXing" became pretty widespread in indigenous schools. A Chan Master and Scholar (Tai Xu) of the last Century classified Hua Yan, Tiant Tai and Chan as the "Perfect Enlightenment Teachings of the Dharma Realm", more India Madhyamaka, Yogacara schools as "Wisdom of Emptiness teachings of the Dharma Nature" and "Mind only Teachings of the Dharma Appearance".

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Anonymous X » Fri Jun 30, 2017 2:01 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Astus wrote:"Some people do not realize that the nature of merit and demerit is empty; they sit rigidly without moving and suppress both body and mind, like a rock crushing grass. To regard this as cultivation of the mind is a great delusion."
I'm interested in the apparent conflict between this statement, and the often-observed practice in Buddhist monasteries, where zazen does indeed comprise long hours of sitting motionless in dhyana, according to many accounts.

From the description of Robert Boswell's account of his time in a Korean Monastery, 'The Zen Monastic Experience':
Although meditators comprise only a small percentage of the monks (with the rest devoted to support activities or ritual), their efforts astonishing: sitting in meditation for 14 hours a day; for one week a year, sitting seven days straight without sleep; engaging in such severe practices as extensive fasting, never lying down to sleep, and the frowned-upon but ever-popular practice of burning off their fingers (a`symbolic commitment'').
Why do you think in some places, the idea of 'sitting motionless' is admonished, but in other places, it seems to be regarded as fundamental to Zen practice?
The motionlessness is associated with being alert and not distracted by states of 'mind' or what is happening around you. It allows the energy of the body to move freely and the attention to be given to the present moment and its contemplation. You can do the same thing no matter what you are doing, you don't have to be sitting. Austerities are not going to produce anything but mind control, which has nothing to do with Ch'an/Zen. We need to question such practices and attitudes.

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Astus » Fri Jun 30, 2017 5:31 pm

Wayfarer wrote:I'm interested in the apparent conflict between this statement, and the often-observed practice in Buddhist monasteries, where zazen does indeed comprise long hours of sitting motionless in dhyana, according to many accounts.
As it is said in the quote you provided from Buswell, "meditators comprise only a small percentage of the monks", while the majority in Korea are Jogye monastics, a Seon school. It is rather a myth that Chan equals Dhyana just because the words are etymologically related.
Why do you think in some places, the idea of 'sitting motionless' is admonished, but in other places, it seems to be regarded as fundamental to Zen practice?
Hardly any classic Zen text talks of sitting meditation. Even Dogen's Shobogenzo is mostly about other topics (see a little calculation here). As for what is considered the daily routine of a monastery, that is quite a different matter, and it is nothing universal, except perhaps the morning and evening ceremony. In any case, a good number of Zen works are critical of practically every aspect of monastic life, from prostrations to pilgrimages, and seated meditation is just one of the many things one can be overly occupied with. But being critical does not mean rejecting or forbidding, only that none of those constitute the essence of the Buddhadharma.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Jun 30, 2017 11:43 pm

AnonymousX wrote:We need to question such practices and attitudes.
Astus wrote:being critical does not mean rejecting or forbidding, only that none of those constitute the essence of the Buddhadharma.
Thank you both, I see what you mean. Although I have always found that commitment to daily sitting is a basic part of engaging with the dharma, because otherwise I'm just another urban-dweller who thinks about it. Actually I always have to make an effort, and regularly fall short, but still, that is my experience of it.

As for 'sudden awakening' - my approach is, we already are enlightened, but we've forgotten how to appreciate it. So there's no use looking for anything further, we have to understand what we have already realised but then forgotten. Most of the time, 'looking for something' is a way to escape from that.

:namaste:
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Astus » Sat Jul 01, 2017 12:04 am

Wayfarer wrote:Although I have always found that commitment to daily sitting is a basic part of engaging with the dharma, because otherwise I'm just another urban-dweller who thinks about it.
"When I was first at the temple, we simply practiced. We worked and prostrated. Every day we chanted and read sutras. We were not told their meaning. It didn’t matter. We simply went through the process. We cut down on our attachment to the things around us, cut down on the things in our heads, cut down on our discriminations. This was a good method for us. However, for modern lay people such training would be inadequate.
Many of my disciples have questioned these methods. With no emphasis on what they think practice is — meditation, prostrations, chanting — they feel that life in the monastery is not particularly different from their lives at home. What’s the point, they say. At home we work, here we work. At home we cook, and we cook here, too. Why did we bother to leave home? Where is the practice?
What would you say to such disciples? Is life at home and life at the monastery the same? Someone just mentioned attitude, and that is entirely correct. The way we approach what we do at the monastery is not quite the same as the way most lay people approach what they have to do."

(Sheng-yen: Life in a Ch’an Monastery)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Wayfarer » Sat Jul 01, 2017 1:14 am

Right! Very good point. The next two paragraphs continue:
We practice not for personal gain, but simply as a way of life. Once a practitioner has trained himself to the point where the mind is very stable and few discriminations arise, it is very important that he rely on the principles and concepts of Buddhadharma as his guide. Otherwise, practitioners might develop a nihilistic attitude and conclude that there is nothing in life worth doing. This is a mistake and very much misses the point of what practice is about.

Relying on the principles and concepts of Buddhadharma, a practitioner will live his life in such a way that he is selfless yet very much involved in the goings-on of the world. Such a person has a genuine concern for all living beings, and works in a diligent manner for the benefit of others.
:namaste:
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Sudden Buddhahood?

Post by Anonymous X » Sat Jul 01, 2017 5:59 am

Wayfarer wrote: Thank you both, I see what you mean. Although I have always found that commitment to daily sitting is a basic part of engaging with the dharma, because otherwise I'm just another urban-dweller who thinks about it. Actually I always have to make an effort, and regularly fall short, but still, that is my experience of it.

As for 'sudden awakening' - my approach is, we already are enlightened, but we've forgotten how to appreciate it. So there's no use looking for anything further, we have to understand what we have already realised but then forgotten. Most of the time, 'looking for something' is a way to escape from that.:namaste:
Aren't we actually engaging in information that we've heard from one source or another? The cultural input that condition us and help us survive are varied in their sources. This demand for practice, isn't it another desire, another grasping on to an idea(s)? We want to acheive something and we believe that we can do it through engaging in certain actions or thinking certain thoughts. All of this seems conditioned to me. We don't really let all of this go and contemplate what is right in front of us, what is really taking place. If there is no use looking or anything further, why do it? Habit? Image/Desire? Guilty that you are not something special? For me, this seems like real contemplation.

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